Comparing virtual schools in Michigan to national trends identified in NEPC’s recent national report

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On March 10, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), released its third annual report on virtual schools in the U.S. In this report, entitled Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2015, the authors tackle subjects such as key policy issues in virtual schools, existing research to guide policy, and statistics on the number of virtual schools, demographics about who attends them, and comparison measures against national statistics for students attending traditional brick and mortar schools.

In summarizing key points about full-time virtual schools, authors Gary Miron and Charisse Gulosino state that virtual schools served a higher proportion of girls than boys and “[r]elative to national public school enrollment, virtual schools had substantially fewer minority students, fewer low-income students, fewer students with disabilities, and fewer students classified as English language learners.”

Given that these findings were based on national data, the research team at MVLRI was interested in how those general findings aligned with virtual schools within the state of Michigan. To find out, MVLRI used the MI School Data website (https://mischooldata.org) to look up these same metrics using information available to the public. MVLRI looked up the data for seven schools identified by the state of Michigan as cyber schools. These seven schools were:

Daily TasksWeekly TasksAs Needed Tasks
Monitor credit recovery classrooms and each student’s progress status as indicated by:
- the last date the student accessed the class;
- the student’s most recently completed work and scores achieved; and
- identifying when a student has failed to recover credit through performance on each end-of-unit test.

Schedule unit tests to be unlocked for individual student access at the date and time requested by mentors.
- Deliver weekly Blackboard announcements (e.g., motivational messaging, helpful reminders of How To’s and navigation tips, tips for organizational and academic performance,  recommended pacing and resources.
- Populating Test Scores in Blackboard (Max Score out of Unit Diagnostic/Test Pairs and/or Unit Test/Retake)
- Respond to student questions conveyed through email or the Blackboard messaging tool in as timely a fashion as possible, but at least within 24 hours.
- Upon identifying individual student instances of a failed unit test, communicate within 48 hours an opportunity to schedule a one-on-one live session (i.e., call, chat, screenshare)  to review the student’s answers on the unit test, and/or provide remediation and opportunities for additional practice, and determine a schedule to retake the assessment once the student completes assigned remedial activity.
- Confer with mentors to answer questions, report technical assistance requests, and solicit feedback on the success of the program

*Mosaica Online Academy of Michigan has since changed its name to Mackinac Preparatory Academy

National Finding #1 – Virtual schools were skewed in favor of girls.

Michigan Finding #1 – Based on data for the 2013-14 school year, five of the seven virtual schools had higher proportions of female students than the statewide average. See Figure 1.

Figure 1

National Finding #2 – Virtual schools had substantially fewer minority students.

Michigan Finding #2 – Based on data for the 2013-14 school year, five of the seven virtual schools had fewer minority students than the statewide average. See Figure 2.

Figure 2

National Finding #3 – Virtual schools had fewer low-income students.

Michigan Finding #3 – Based on data for the 2013-14 school year, five of the seven virtual schools had higher proportions of low-income students than the statewide average. See Figure 3.

Fig 3

National Finding #4 – Virtual schools had fewer students with disabilities.

Michigan Finding #4 – Based on data for the 2013-14 school year, four of the seven virtual schools had higher proportions of students with disabilities than the statewide average. See Figure 4.

Fig 4

National Finding #5 – Virtual schools had fewer students classified as English Language Learners.

Michigan Finding #5 – Based on data for the 2013-14 school year, all seven virtual schools had fewer students classified as English Language Learners than the statewide average. See Figure 5.

Fig 5

Conclusion

In conclusion, the national trends that more females are being served by virtual schools, fewer minority students are enrolled in virtual schools, and virtual school students are less likely to be classified as English Language Learners appear to be true for virtual schools in Michigan for the 2013-2014 school year. In contrast to the national trend, Michigan appears to have virtual schools serving higher percentages of low-income students than the statewide average and four of the seven virtual schools have higher rates of students with disabilities compared to the state average. As this quick analysis demonstrates, it is often important to understand both the national trends as well as state-level trends as the two may not necessarily be the same.

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Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

The Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) is a non-biased organization that exists to expand Michigan’s ability to support new learning models, engage in active research to inform new policies in online and blended learning, and strengthen the state’s infrastructures for sharing best practices. MVLRI works with all online learning environments to develop the best practices for the industry as a whole.

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