Virtual Schools in the US
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed virtual schooling to the forefront of the national educational landscape. Long-time proponents of this technology quickly positioned digital programs and platforms as the obvious solution for schools that had to close buildings to avoid transmitting the virus. The pandemic exacerbated a trend that NEPC virtual schools’ reports have documented since 2013. While it is clear that virtual schools—particularly for-profit virtual schools—are expanding rapidly, there remains little research evidence to support or justify the expansion. Moreover, there is little policymaking at the state level adequate to the task of ensuring the quality of education that virtual school students receive. Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021 provides scholarly analyses of the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools; reviews the relevant available research related to virtual school practices; provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft virtual school policy; and offers policy recommendations based on the available evidence.
As proponents continue to make the case that virtual education can expand student choices and improve the efficiency of public education, full-time virtual schools have attracted a great deal of attention. Advocates contend that this potential for individualization allows virtual schools to promote greater student achievement than can be realized in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. NEPC researchers found, however, that the research evidence does not support this claim. This three-part brief provides disinterested scholarly analyses of the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools; reviews the relevant available research related to virtual school practices; provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft virtual schools policy; and offers policy recommendations based on the available evidence. Available at: https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2019
Retrieved from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2014
Over the last five years, the National Education Policy Center has published a Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence report. As an extension of the data collected for the Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2017 report (Molnar et al. 2017), the lead authors produced case studies for five states (i.e., Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho, Washington, and Michigan). The goal of these case studies was to describe the enrollment, characteristics, and performance of virtual and blended schools in that state over the previous year; discuss the research related to the virtual and blended school characteristics and outcomes, as well as the legislative activities; and examine the legislation and policies that have been introduced (and enacted) over the past two years. These five case studies reveal a great degree of consistency between the different states. For example, most of the full-time virtual schools in each of the five states were independent (i.e., not run by EMOs). However, the vast majority of students attend a virtual school that is operated by an EMO. Virtual schools also had far more students for each teacher compared to traditional public schools. Further, virtual school students underperformed compared to their traditional public school counterparts. In addition to the similarities across the cases, when it came to student enrollment, student characteristics, and student performance, with the exception of Michigan there was a general lack of empirical research related to full-time virtual schools (and almost no research related to blended schools). Finally, with the exception of Idaho, there was also a general lack of legislative activity over the two years reviewed for this report. Given that each of these five case studies was generated using data from the latest Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence report, it is important to examine the recommendations made by Molnar et al. (2017) based on the national data. However, based on the data from these five individual states, we recommend the following. - Policymakers need to slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed. They should prioritize understanding why virtual schools perform poorly under a college- and career-ready accountability system and how their performance can be improved prior to expansion. - Policymakers need to create long-term programs to support independent research on and evaluation of virtual and blended schooling. - Policymakers need to develop new funding formulas based on the actual costs of operating virtual schools and new accountability structures for virtual schools, including guidelines and governance mechanisms to ensure that virtual schools do not prioritize profit over student performance. Further policymakers need to assess the contributions of various providers to student achievement, and close virtual schools and programs that do not contribute to student growth. - Policymakers need to define certification training and relevant teacher licensure requirements specific to teaching responsibilities in virtual schools, require research-based professional development to promote effective online teaching models, and work with emerging research to develop valid and comprehensive teacher evaluation rubrics that are specific to online teaching.