Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Case Studies of Policy, Performance, and Research Evidence

Published on June 27, 2017
In this new report, entitled Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Case Studies of Policy, Performance, and Research Evidence, the authors describe the enrollment, student characteristics, and performance of virtual and blended schools in each state, discuss the research related to virtual and blended school characteristics and outcomes, and examine recent legislative activities pertaining to virtual and blended schools. This new research effort adds to our current understanding of virtual schools by highlighting areas that are consistent with findings identified in the national report as well as noting instances where national trends may inaccurately describe state-level activity.
Abstract:

Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Case Studies of Policy, Performance, and Research EvidenceThe National Education Policy Center recently released its annual Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence report, providing a unique look at virtual schools across the country. To supplement the national perspective provided in that report, the lead authors also created five in-depth case studies featuring the states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho, Washington, and Michigan. In this new report, entitled Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Case Studies of Policy, Performance, and Research Evidence, the authors describe the enrollment, student characteristics, and performance of virtual and blended schools in each state, discuss the research related to virtual and blended school characteristics and outcomes, and examine recent legislative activities pertaining to virtual and blended schools. This new research effort adds to our current understanding of virtual schools by highlighting areas that are consistent with findings identified in the national report as well as noting instances where national trends may inaccurately describe state-level activity.

Download the Report

Written By:
  • Michael K. Barbour, Touro University, California
  • Gary Miron, Western Michigan University
  • Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia University
What we already know about this topic:
  • Previous publications have identified growing enrollments in virtual schools, particularly those operated by private educational management organizations (EMOs).
  • Analysis of available demographic data has noted fewer minority and low-income students were enrolled in virtual schools compared to national averages.
  • Virtual schools tend to have student-to-teacher ratios in excess of those in traditional schools. Graduation rates and school report card grades of virtual schools tend to be below their traditional school counterparts.
What this report adds:
  • Some of the national trends held true at the state level. For example, in Wisconsin, virtual schools enrolled higher percentages of White students than the statewide average and the national average.
  • Even when a national trend held true, sometimes the size of the gap changed considerably. For instance, as noted above for Wisconsin, the percentage of White students enrolled in virtual schools was almost 30 percentage points higher than the national average; however, it was less than 10% higher than the state average.
  • There was also clear state variation from national statistics and trends. In Ohio for example, the percentage of White students attending virtual schools was much higher than the national average, but essentially no different from the state average. In Michigan, virtual schools enrolled higher percentages of students who were eligible for free and reduced lunch compared to all Michigan schools as well as all public schools in the country.
  • Student-to-teacher ratios were quite variant from one state to the next. In Michigan, the mean student-to-teacher ratio was significantly impacted by an extreme value, suggesting that the median, in some cases, may be a more representative measure.
  • The volume of research and policy activities varied in each state.
Implications for practice and/or policy:
  • The five case studies established important baseline measures for each state that were often more precise and accurate than substituting with national statistics. In some cases, national trends continued to be observed; in others, variation was found. This research suggests that both kinds of research – national scans as well as state case studies – be conducted to understand important variations.
  • The demonstration of the variation between states suggests lessons can be learned from future studies to understand what is working in some states that may not be working as well in others. This understanding will aid in raising performance across the nation.

Download the Report

Table of Contents

Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.