Dept of Education to Fund Study on Online Course Effectiveness


In response to a previous study which made the case that online classes are not as effective at community colleges, the US Department of Education is funding a $1.6 million study concerning the effectiveness of virtual schooling in the state of Florida to take place over a three-year time span.

A previous study presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference in Chicago this April found students at community colleges within California to be 11% less likely to complete a course online when that course was offered both virtually and in a traditional classroom setting.

Researchers from University of Michigan, Stanford and University of California, Davis will look at data from both the Florida Virtual School and the Miami Dade County Public Schools from both the 2003-04 and 2013-14 school years, in addition to information collected from surveys completed by teachers and students.  The data will be used to look at “how virtual schooling options affect students’ course progression, academic achievement and teacher effectiveness,” according to researchers from the University of Michigan.

“There are enormous gaps in the research literature on online schools,” said Brian Jacob, professor of economics and education at the University of Michigan, in a prepared statement. “Policymakers have little evidence of whether online courses boost achievement, which types of students flourish and the conditions that promote positive student outcomes.”

It is the hope that any findings will be able to aid policymakers and educators with their understanding of how virtual schools help student achievement, what type of student would most likely benefit from such a way of study, and how it could be improved, writes Leila Meyer for Campus Technology.

According to data from the DOE, almost 2 million students took at least one online course in the 2009-10 school year.  Over half of the districts who participated in the survey at that time reported students participating in distance education courses online.  The International Association for K-12 Online Learning found that students who attended school online as full-time students had risen from 200,000 in 2009-10 to 310,000 in 2013.

The latest report from the Goldwater Institute, “How Online Schools Can Improve Student Achievement and Use Resources More Effectively,” explains how students who are enrolled at the Florida Virtual School are paid for by the state.  A small percentage of the cost is offered at the beginning of the school year, with the remainder paid after each student has successfully completed a course.  Doing so, the report says, offers the school incentives to help students complete their courses.