Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2015: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence

This 2015 report is third in a series of annual reports on virtual education in the U.S.. It is organized in three major sections. Section I examines the policy and political landscape associated with virtual schooling and describes the current state of affairs related to finance and governance, instructional program quality, and teacher quality. The authors analyze to what extent, if any, policy in the past year has moved toward or away from their 2014 recommendations. Based on an analysis of legislative development across all states, the authors find that troubling issues continue to outpace informed policy.

Section II reviews the research relevant to virtual schools. It finds that despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever greater expansion. The authors find that even as research on virtual schooling has increased, there is still little high-quality evidence that justifies ongoing calls for the expansion of virtual schools.

Section III provides a descriptive census of full time virtual schools and their expansion based on data gathered from state, corporate and organizational sources. Details on enrollment include the student characteristics of race/ethnicity, sex, free and reduced lunch eligibility, special education designation, ELL status, and grade level. Other information includes student-teacher ratios. In addition, details on student achievement include Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) ratings, state ratings, and graduation rates. 


Below are downloadable and/or printable files. The first is the complete brief (including all sections and appendices). Below it are the individual sections, each of which may be downloaded separately.

Research Brief (complete)
Section I
Section II
Section III
Appendix A
Appendixes B, C, D