Virtual School Meanderings

September 1, 2021

A New Model Of Accountability For Alternative And Virtual Schools

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 11:02 pm
Tags: , , , ,

An item from a business professor with little direct experience in education, but who believes free market economic principles are the answer to education’s (and pretty much all other society’s social) problems.

A New Model Of Accountability For Alternative And Virtual Schools

With the rush to remote learning in March 2020, now’s the time

As full-time virtual learning moved from the fringe to the mainstream in mid-March 2020, onlookers expressed concerns about access for learners and accountability for the learning itself.

Concerns around virtual learning have been widespread since at least 2015—when a major study found that students enrolled in full-time, virtual charter schools made, on average, far less progress than their counterparts in traditional schools did.

These worries haven’t applied only to full-time virtual schools, however.

Alternative schools that serve students who have dropped out or transferred from traditional schools—and often serve as schools of last resort—have historically struggled to show the value they add to students. The few studies that look at alternative have documented quality concerns, low graduation rates, and underfunding.

Yet these schools have a critical role to play by catering to students who aren’t served well by traditional schools. This past year especially, these schools served as a haven for subsets of students.

If that’s the case, then how can policymakers ensure that alternative schools are serving students well and not permitting the truly poorly performing ones to persist and grow? That’s the question I tackle in a new white paper for the American Enterprise Institute titled “A New Accountability Model for Alternative Schools.”

My answer is based on a framework that a non-profit I helped found, the Education Quality Outcomes Standards Board, which maintains standards for student outcomes in postsecondary education, including learning outcomes, completion, placement, earnings where relevant, and student satisfaction and confirmation of purpose. In essence, I propose a model that recognizes the unique missions of non-traditional schools and allows parents to compare schools in the alternative education sector.

The goal is to give alternative schools breathability in the metrics on which they report but not letting them duck from the hard task of serving students well. You can download the white paper here to dig into the recommendations, or check out my summary at Forbes here.

Hot Takes

  1. The Orchid and the Dandelion”: This is a must-read piece in Education Next by Laurence Holt about new research that uncovered a link between a genetic variation and how students (often those with ADHD) respond to digital-learning interventions. The potential implications are vast. I was also heartened by this research because it emerged by looking at anomalies within traditional randomized control trials that, in essence, showed small effect sizes from the use of digital curriculum. For some students, however, the effects were quite large, whereas they were small or even negative for others. Parsing out what was different about the students and then testing that hypothesis produced the breakthrough—which should be a model for more research in education (and social sciences more generally), as Clay Christensen long encouraged and we wrote in Disrupting Class.
  2. Reframing the Workplace for the Knowledge Economy: As anyone knows, despite me not having much of an eye for physical space, I’m a passionate believer that how we design environments has a profound impact on how we learn and work. In this podcast, I drew from some of our work at Guild Education and my past conversations on the importance of physical design to talk about what it means to design a workplace that supports and values learning.
  3. Motivations for Choosing a College: In this conversation with LabChats, I talked about research from our book Choosing College and how schools can use this information to increase enrollment and provide better value for their students.
  4. Two videos about school districts making significant changes to how schooling works to better personalize learning for students and create more options that will work for all families. Check out my interviews about Spring Grove Public Schools in Minnesota and Iron County School District in Utah.

As always, thanks for listening, reading, and writing.

Comment Share

You’re on the free list for The Future of Education.

© 2021 Michael Horn
548 Market Street PMB 72296, San Francisco, CA 94104

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: