University of Michigan researchers 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.

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

“There are enormous gaps in the research literature on online schools,” said Brian Jacob, professor of economics and education, and co-director of the Education Policy Initiative at the 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.”

He was joined on the study by Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, Cassandra Hart of the University of California, Davis, and Brian Rowan, a U-M Burke A. Hinsdale Collegiate Professor of Education, professor of education and sociology, and research professor at the Survey Research Center.

“As online learning options multiply, little is known about how well such courses serve K-12 students,” Loeb said. “Our project will explore how access to online courses affects students’ test scores, course grades and progression.”

They will examine data for virtual and face-to-face schools in Florida from 2003-04 through 2013-14. In addition, they’ll collect 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,” Hart said. “And we will ask teachers about the supports they receive from administrators such as curricular materials and real-time coaching.”

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