Jun 09 2015

University Researchers Put Florida’s Virtual School Under the Microscope

Three universities will soon begin digging into the results of the nation's largest virtual school.

The scope of online learning has changed dramatically as more states adopt virtual education options. And universities are now studying the effectiveness of the learning method.

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan; the University of California, Davis; and Stanford University are launching a three-year study of virtual schools in Florida, the state with the most students enrolled in this type of education.

The study is being funded by a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Education Department's Institute of Education Sciences, according to a news release from the University of Michigan.

Florida is far and away the U.S. leader when it comes to the number of K-12 students participating in virtual education, with 377,508 course completions issued in the Florida Virtual School in the 2013-14 school year, according to a 2014 survey by the Evergreen Education Group. The state with the second largest virtual school in the country is North Carolina, which had 104,799 enrollees in that school year.

Michigan also has a history when it comes to online schooling. In 2006 it became the first state to require its students to take at least one online course before graduating from high school.

Researchers from the three universities hope to discover how the virtual option affects a student's test scores and the effectiveness of teachers in the online arena. The study results could influence policymakers on how virtual classes will be used in other states, according to the media release.

"There are enormous gaps in the research literature on online schools," Brian Jacob, University of Michigan professor of economics and education and co-director of the Education Policy Initiative at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, said in the university news release. "Policymakers have little evidence of whether online courses boost achievement, which types of students flourish and the conditions that promote positive student outcomes."