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Michael Barbour, (203) 997-6330,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Review finds major methodological errors in Florida Virtual School report

Brings attention to the need for data-driven solutions to real problems

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Oct. 28, 2014) – A recently released paper from the Harvard Kennedy School attempted to compare the performance of students at the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) to students in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. The paper concluded that FLVS students performed about the same or somewhat better on state tests and at a lower cost. An academic review out today, finds that the report is flawed in several important ways and that the paper does not advance our understanding of conditions necessary for effective K-12 online or blended learning.

Michael K. Barbour, Director of Doctoral Studies for the Isabelle Farrington College of Education at Sacred Heart University, reviewed Virtual Schooling and Student Learning: Evidence from the Florida Virtual School for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. Dr. Barbour has been involved with K-12 online learning in several countries as a researcher, teacher, course designer, and administrator.

The paper claimed to be the first empirical study of K-12 student performance in virtual education. However, in his review, Dr. Barbour specifically calls attention to the fact that this paper is not the first, and the report merely "confirms the findings and repeats the methodological flaws and limitations of previous research."

Specifically, Barbour exposes several methodological errors that need to be addressed: (1) a potential bias of student selectivity in the FLVS sample; (2) the potential impact of regression effects, differential mortality in the two groups, and (3) the fact that the virtual environment is simply a delivery medium.

Regarding the report's use of research literature, he finds: "The report almost completely ignored the wealth of literature on K-12 online learning."

Barbour brings into question the line of inquiry used in the paper; one that attempts to determine which medium is better. Instead, Barbour suggests that research needs to be focused on "investigating under what conditions K-12 online and blended learning can be effectively designed, delivered, and supported."

Moreover, the paper ignores the fact that online and blended learning continue grow, and there is a need for better information to enhance and improve K-12 online learning programs.

Read the full review at:

Find Virtual Schooling and Student Learning on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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