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Virtual Schools Remain Unproven

Team of scholars produce annual examination of online education


William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,

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Boulder, CO (March 10, 2015) – The third edition of the National Education Policy Center’s annual report on virtual schools finds that while online schools continue to proliferate, there continues to be little evidence of their effectiveness. The limited evidence in hand indicates that virtual schools lag behind traditional public schools.

Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2015: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence, published today, edited by University of Colorado Boulder professor Alex Molnar, consists of three major sections on policy issues, research findings and descriptive information on the nation’s virtual schools. 

“The NEPC reports contribute to the existing evidence and discourse on virtual education by providing an objective analysis of the evolution and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools,” Molnar points out.

As previous editions of the report have found, the 2015 analysis concludes that “Claims made in support of expanding virtual education are largely unsupported by high quality research evidence.” While lawmakers in some states have made attempts to provide greater oversight on the virtual school industry, those efforts have not been especially successful. Moreover, the report observes, such actions as policymakers have attempted do not appear to be well informed by research evidence.

The first section of the report, by Luis Huerta of Columbia University’s Teachers College and Sheryl Shafer, includes a comprehensive survey of virtual school legislation introduced in the states in 2014. Additionally, Huerta and Shafer consider a range of policy issues that remain unresolved. These include how to ensure that teachers who provide online instruction have appropriate training and development for the distinctive characteristics of the online classroom setting, and how to more closely guard against profiteering by private for-profit companies.

The second section, by Michael Barbour of Sacred Heart University, surveys the research literature on virtual education and ponders the fact that “more than twenty years after the first virtual schools began, there continues to be a dearth of empirical, longitudinal research to guide the practice and policy of virtual schooling.”

The third section, by Gary Miron of Western Michigan University and Charisse Gulosino of the University of Memphis, takes stock of the country’s virtual schooling operations, with analyses that examine the demographics of virtual school students as well as the virtual schools’ outcomes where measures such as Adequate Yearly Progress and graduations rates are concerned – metrics increasingly used to judge conventional public schools in the name of accountability. On measures of student achievement and general educational outcomes, they write, “full-time virtual schools continued to lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools.”

Find a copy of the NEPC report Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2014: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence online at


The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on NEPC, please visit

This report is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (GLC).  For more information about GLC, visit