GLC Logo

Jennifer King Rice: (301) 405-5580,
Teri Battaglieri: (517) 203-2940,

Review: Report lacks evidence to claim virtual schools cheaper than brick-and-mortar schools

EAST LANSING, Mich. (March 6, 2012) – A recent Thomas B. Fordham Institute report analyzing the cost drivers of virtual and blended-learning schools compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schools uses no empirical evidence to support its conclusion that it's significantly cheaper for students to be educated online, according to an academic review released today.

The Fordham report, The Costs of Online Learning, determined that virtual schools cost $6,400 per student on average, compared to $10,000 per student spent in brick-and-mortar schools. The report also claimed blended-learning schools cost $8,900 per student.

Jennifer King Rice, a professor at the University of Maryland, reviewed the report for the Think Twice think tank review project.  The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

"It is surprising that this report cites no empirical evidence on the costs or effectiveness of the various approaches to online learning," Rice wrote in her review.

According to Rice, the approaches used in the report are too general and not evidenced-based. The report also does not review economies of scale that would influence the per-pupil costs of online learning.

"Given the growing use of technology in K-12 education as a way to improve student outcomes and decrease costs, policymakers need evidence on how best to invest limited resources. However, the report's lack of clarity surrounding the models being studied and methodological shortcomings limit its utility," Rice concluded.

Find Jennifer King Rice's review on the Great Lakes Center website at:

Find The Costs of Online Learning by Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Halderman, and Eleanor Laurens at:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:


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.

Visit the Great Lakes Center Web Site at:

Follow us on Twitter at: