Online School Cost Comparisons Rest on Problematic Data, Methods

Contact: 
Jennifer King Rice, (301) 405-5580, jkr@umd.edu      
William J. Mathis, (802) 282-0058, wmathis@sover.net

URL for this press release: http://tinyurl.com/7zmgwbo

 

BOULDER, CO (March 6, 2012) – Schools and school systems throughout the nation are increasingly experimenting with using various instructional technologies to improve productivity and decrease costs, but evidence on both the effectiveness and the costs of education technology is limited.

A recent report published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute sets out to describe “the size and range of the critical cost drivers for online schools in comparison to traditional brick-and-mortar schools.” The report, The Costs of Online Learning, was written by Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Haldeman, and Eleanor Laurans of the Parthenon Group, a Boston business consulting firm. It was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The report was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Jennifer King Rice, a Universityof Maryland education professor whose research interests include education policy, education productivity, and cost analysis applications to education.

Rice writes that the study divides online learning into two broad categories—virtual schools and blended-learning schools—and, based on data from 50 experts, reports that “the average overall per-pupil costs of both models are significantly lower than the $10,000 national average for traditional brick-and-mortar schools.”

These findings, however, are undermined by a general lack of clarity about the models being studied and problematic data and methods.

While the report addresses an important topic, the utility of its cost estimates are limited. Of more value are the qualitative findings about how various cost drivers affect the overall costs of online learning. The study would be more useful if it provided a rigorous analysis of a set of well-defined promising models of online learning as the basis for its cost estimates.

 

Find Jennifer King Rice’s review on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-cost-of-online

Find The Costs of Online Learning, by Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Haldeman, and Eleanor Laurans, online at:
http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/the-costs-of-online-learning.html.

The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great LakesCenterfor Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

This review is also found on the GLC website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org