WSW: WMU Researchers Examine Online Education

Apr 8, 2014

Credit International Institute of Management/Wikicommons


Two Western Michigan University researchers contributed to a recent report on the growth of virtual schools. 

The report from the National Education Policy Center finds schools that are completely online have problems with accountability and meeting education standards. Gary Miron, a Professor of Evaluation, Measurement and Research and Brian Horvitz, Professor of Education Technology in the Education Leadership Program, at Western Michigan University, contributed to the report released in March. 

Miron told WMUK's Gordon Evans that the report focused on full-time virtual schools at the K-12 level. He says across the board the schools are not performing well, compared to traditional "brick and mortar" schools. Miron says those measurements include test scores graduation rates and other factors. He says the virtual schools are also not as diverse as traditional public schools.

The report also finds that virtual schools lack accountability. Miron says most of the schools are operated by for-profit companies, which are not very transparent. He says those companies often receive public money, but it's not clear how it's being spent. 

Both Miron and Horvitz teach classes online at Western Michigan University. Horvitz says it creates access for students who might not otherwise be able to take a course. But he says it also creates challenges for students who don't manage their time well. Horvitz says students in online classes have had varying degrees of success. 

There are now at least 16 virtual schools in Michigan. But Miron says the numbers show only three have achieved acceptable performance ratings. He says it's difficult to make online schools accountable because they are run by for-profit companies, which often keep information private. 

Horvitz says there are different ways to approach and structure online learning. But he says it's still a new environment, and Horvitz says he's concerned that virtual schools are growing quickly before research shows the best ways to conduct online education. 

The report from the National Education Policy Center encourages states to slow down or stop the growth of virtual schools. Miron says he thinks online education can work. He says a "hybrid" model that includes both classroom and online learning shows the most promise.