Skip to main content

Report Unconvincingly Argues that Crisis Should Initiate a Long-Term Shift to Virtual Schooling

BOULDER, CO (April 7, 2020) - A new report from the Mercatus Center argues that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, education budgets should be reallocated toward investments in virtual schools. It describes the pandemic as presenting Americans with the opportunity to see the benefits of virtual schooling, which “could change education content delivery forever, making instruction more flexible and suited to the needs of each individual student.”

CU Boulder professor of education policy, Kevin Welner, who is the Director of the National Education Policy Center, reviewed Public-Private Virtual-School Partnerships and Federal Flexibility for Schools during COVID-19. As the report points out, these virtual schools are primarily run by two private vendors, so the “public-private partnerships” involve school districts contracting with one of these vendors.

While immediate crisis responses in some jurisdictions may reasonably involve such partnerships, the report’s broader call for this crisis response to lead to a long-term shift to virtual schooling is not supported by the report. In fact, this recommendation flies in the face of a half-dozen clear shortcomings of this online approach: low achievement outcomes, disproportionate harm to students with the fewest advantages, limited ability to serve children with special needs, lack of needed infrastructure, an inability to fulfill schooling’s group/team activities or social purposes, and a lack of wraparound services. The sector has also been plagued by misuse of taxpayer funds. With the exception of brief discussions of infrastructure and special education, these issues are not addressed in the Mercatus report.

Professor Welner concludes that the report makes an uncompelling plea for policymakers to use this crisis to embrace an educational approach that the author sees as beneficial, notwithstanding the clear evidence of its limitations and problems. He nonetheless predicts that additional reports are likely to follow, making similar arguments for a lasting transformation of schooling.

Find the review, by Kevin Welner, at:
https://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/coronavirus

Find Public-Private Virtual-School Partnerships and Federal Flexibility for Schools during COVID-19, written by Jonathan Butcher and published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, at:
https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/butcher-virtual-schools-covid-19-mercatus-v1.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu