Stanford researchers receive grant for study of K12 online learning

May 21, 2015

New federal funds will enable a team from three universities to investigate how virtual schools affect student performance and how to improve them.

Researchers at Stanford University Graduate School of Education will share in a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to launch a three-year study of virtual schooling in Florida.

The study will explore how virtual schooling options affect students’ course progression, academic achievement and teacher effectiveness. Virtual schools have expanded rapidly in many states including Florida.

The results will help policymakers and school personnel understand how virtual classes affect achievement, which students are likely to benefit and avenues for improvement.

“As online learning options multiply, little is known about how well such courses serve K12 students,” said Susanna Loeb, the Barnett Family Professor of Education at Stanford and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis, said. “Our project will explore how access to online courses affects students’ test scores, course grades and progression.”

Brian Jacob and Brian Rowan of the University of Michigan and Cassandra Hart of the University of California, Davis, join Loeb on the study. In addition, Loeb will be working on the project at Stanford with research associate Demetra Kalogrides and a doctoral student.

“There are enormous gaps in the research literature on online schools,” said Jacob, a University of Michigan economics and education professor and the co-director of the Education Policy Initiative at its Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “Policymakers have little evidence of whether online courses boost achievement, which types of students flourish, and the conditions that promote positive student outcomes.”

The researchers will examine data for virtual and face-to-face schools in Florida from 2003-04 through 2013-14. In addition, they will collect additional data through surveys from students and teachers in the Florida Virtual School and from students and teachers at Miami Dade County Public Schools.

“We will also ask the students about the supports they receive from teachers, such as feedback and encouragement,” said Hart, assistant professor of education policy at UC-Davis. “And we will ask teachers about the supports they receive from administrators such as curricular materials and real-time coaching.”

Members of the media seeking additional information can contact Jonathan Rabinovitz, Stanford Graduate School of Education, 650-724-9440, jrabin@stanford.edu, or Greta Guest, University of Michigan, 734-936-7821, gguest@umich.edu.

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