Virtual education is touted as a promoter of both quality and access for students across the country. Several states require that students enroll in at least one online course before they graduate, and many states have recently passed legislation encouraging the use of online learning. Yet despite the burgeoning popularity of virtual schools, there remains a stark lack of evidence that these methods actually improve educational opportunity. Our project will fill this gap by exploring how access to the online sector affects students’ academic performance, as well as the effect of various instructional and contextual factors on student learning and teacher effectiveness in virtual schools.
As one of the states that require at least one online course for high school graduation, Florida has emerged as a pioneer of online learning opportunities and a strong provider of virtual school data. For this reason, we have chosen to administer this study in Florida schools. To date, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is the largest education provider in Florida’s online educational market and is responsible for 97% of online learning enrollments. Our research will examine teacher and student data from both FLVS and Florida face-to-face (FtF) schools and compare the outcomes of each in order to identify virtual school best practices.
This project explores how the introduction of virtual schooling options affects students’ course progression and academic achievement. In addition to quantifying achievement effects, we explore candidate mechanisms, particularly teacher effectiveness, that may explain effects, as well as factors that moderate virtual course effects. The results will help policymakers and school personnel understand how virtual classes affect achievement, which students are most likely to benefit, and avenues for virtual class improvement.
Data analysis will take place as an exploratory study with a focus on identifying potential educational mediating and moderating factors and opportunities for improvement. The study will employ such research tools as descriptive analyses, difference-in-difference analysis, multiple regression analysis, teacher value-added measures, and teacher and student surveys using both comprehensive selection and random sample data. With this analysis, we hope to evaluate the extent to which virtual schools can and do provide additional meaningful choices for schoolchildren and their families.
- Which students are most likely to take virtual courses, and which types of courses are they most likely to take?
- Does access to virtual classes improve course progression and academic achievement for students who do not have access to these classes in their bricks-and-mortar schools?
- What is the impact on achievement of taking courses virtually versus FtF? How does this vary for different types of students?
- What are the characteristics of teachers in online courses, and do teachers matter for student success in virtual classes to the same degree that they do in the traditional sector? Also, are certain teacher characteristics correlated with student performance in the virtual sector, and how do these associations compare with those in the FtF sector?
- How do teachers and students describe and assess their experiences in online and FtF classes? How are their responses correlated with student performance within and across sectors? Based on this information, what are productive avenues for further analysis of online course effectiveness?
Walton Family Foundation
Institute of Education Sciences: United States Department of Education, grant award number R305A150163.