WMU researcher's study shows that virtual, blended schools continue to struggle

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. Gary Miron.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A Western Michigan University researcher has co-authored a study that reports full-time online schools and blended learning schools show outcomes that are consistently below traditional public schools.

Dr. Gary Miron, WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology, and Dr. Charisse Gulosino, assistant professor of leadership and policy studies at the University of Memphis, are authors of this year's "Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review." The study was released by the National Education Policy Center, whose mission is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions that are based on sound evidence.

About the report

The report provides a detailed census of full-time virtual and blended schools, including student demographics, state-specific school performance ratings and a comparison of virtual school outcomes with state norms.

Full-time virtual schools deliver all curriculum and instruction via the Internet and electronic communication, usually asynchronously with students at home and teachers at a remote location. Blended schools, combine traditional face-to-face instruction in classrooms with virtual instruction.

"Although increasing numbers of parents and students are choosing virtual or blended schools, relatively little is known about the inner workings of these schools," the authors write in the report's executive summary. "Evidence related to inputs and outcomes indicate that students in these schools differ from those in traditional public schools. The school performance measures for both virtual and blended schools also indicate that these schools are not as successful as traditional public schools."

Nevertheless, their enrollment growth has continued. Miron notes that "large private education management organizations dominate the full-time virtual sector and they are increasing their market share in the blended school sector." The growth of both sectors has been assisted by vigorous advertising campaigns, corporate lobbying and favorable legislation. Districts are opening their own virtual and blended learning schools, although these are typically small and with limited enrollment relative to charter-operated virtual and blended schools.

"Measures of school performance consistently show virtual school outcomes that lag significantly behind those of traditional brick-and-mortar schools," Gulosino says. "While this finding did not surprise us, given past research with similar findings, we were surprised to find that blended schools tended to score similarly or lower on performance measures than virtual schools."

Study recommendations

The authors recommend that, given the rapid growth of virtual and blended schools and their relatively poor performance, policymakers should slow or stop the growth in the number of schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their performance have been addressed.

Among other recommendations, the researchers suggest increased oversight and regulations to require the private operators to devote more of the public resources they receive to instructional costs.

For more information or a copy of the study, visit nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2016.

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