Virtual Schools Expand Despite Poor Performance, Lack of Research Support, and Inadequate Policies

Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2017, a three-part report released today by the National Education Policy Center, provides a detailed inventory of full-time virtual schools in the U.S. and their performance, an exhaustive review of the literature on virtual education and its implications for virtual school practices, and a detailed review and analysis of state-level policymaking related to virtual schools.

The growth of full-time virtual schools is fueled, in part, by policies that expand school choice and that provide market incentives attractive to for-profit companies. Indeed, large virtual schools operated by for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) now dominate this sector and are increasing their market share.

Although virtual schools benefit from the common but largely unsupported assumption that the approach is cost-effective and educationally superior to brick and mortar schools, there are numerous problems associated with virtual schools. School performance measures, for both full-time entirely virtual and full-time blended virtual schools, suggest that they are not as successful as traditional public schools.

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