With Over 76,000 Students, Virtual Learning Growing in Michigan


The second annual report on K-12 virtual learning in Michigan has found that while there has been an increase in the use of online programs, there has been a decline on student performance measures.

Prepared by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, the report includes estimates that over 76,000 Michigan public school students took part in virtual learning enrollments for the 2013-14 school year, which accounted for over 319,000 virtual course enrollments.

Titled “Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report, 2013-14,” the report focused on enrollment totals, completion rates and the overall impact of virtual courses on K-12 students.  In comparison to the previous school year, the report discovered an increase of 38% in the number of K-12 students who participate in virtual learning, as well as an increase of 78% in the number of virtual enrollments.  A small percentage of this growth is attributed to new search techniques for finding virtual enrollments.

For the first time this year, the report includes statistics comparing virtual and non-virtual learners.  For example, data collected by the state shows students who did not participate in any virtual courses during the 2013-14 school year held a completion rate of 89% for their courses.  In comparison, students who took both virtual and non-virtual courses had a completion rate for their non-virtual courses of 71%.

“The data seem pretty clear that, at present, virtual learning is being used by schools for students who are struggling in their traditional setting rather than to enable average and above average performing students to go farther faster with their education,” said Dr. Joe Freidhoff, Executive Director of MVLRI and author of the report.

In addition, a large decrease in the completion rate for virtual learners within their virtual courses was found.  While these students passed their non-virtual courses 71% of the time, the study found that they only passed their virtual courses 57% of the time.

The authors suggest that this finding is due to multiple factors, including which students are chosen for virtual learning, student readiness, entry-level subject proficiency, the reason each student takes each virtual course, and what support is available to virtual students on a local level.

“The trends are clear that more and more K-12 students will be taking virtual courses in the coming years, and the need to be able to learn in this kind of environment has become an important part of being college and career ready,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of MVU. “Schools and virtual learning providers must find better models — both in the virtual and physical environments — to assist novice virtual learners in developing 21st century skills.”

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