School & District Management

Report Estimates Cost of Virtual Education

By Katie Ash — January 17, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The per-pupil cost of educating a student through virtual education is significantly less, on average, than the national average for brick-and-mortar schools, a paper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute says.

The report also says that fully virtual programs are less expensive, on average, than blended-learning programs, which combine face-to-face and online learning, but the paper does not address whether student outcomes are equal.

The fourth in a series of papers called Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning, it found that virtual schools spend about $5,100 to $7,700 for each student, compared with $7,600 to $10,200 for blended-learning programs, and $10,000 per student for regular brick-and-mortar schools.

However, the authors of the paper, Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Haldeman, and Eleanor Laurens, all of whom work for the Parthenon Group, a Boston-based global strategy advisory firm, caution readers against settling on a price tag for online learning because of how widely the cost of such education varies from program to program. The cost of online learning also does not take into account student outcomes, say the researchers, who gathered data from public documents as well as in interviews with entrepreneurs, policy experts, and school leaders.

Some e-learning experts not involved in the Fordham analysis also expressed notes of caution about drawing conclusions from it.

“A careless reading of the report will lead some policymakers and educators to believe that online and blended should be pursued with cost-savings goals front and center,” said John Watson, the founder of the Evergreen Education Group, a Durango, Colo.-based organization that researches online learning.

“A closer reading reveals that such an approach will overlook the need for an initial investment of time and resources, leading to poor outcomes,” he said. “I’m concerned that policymakers will focus on what appear to be the bottom-line numbers, ... without acknowledging the numerous caveats that appear throughout.”

The paper identifies five cost drivers that outline the way different types of schools allocate resources: labor, content acquisition and development, technology and infrastructure, school operations, and student-support services.

While more than half of regular schools’ financial resources typically go toward labor costs, virtual schools can often reduce those costs by increasing the pupil-teacher ratio or by reducing teacher salaries by hiring only part-time teachers or paraprofessionals, says the report.

A version of this article appeared in the January 18, 2012 edition of Education Week as What Is the Cost of Virtual Ed.?

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management What the Research Says Public School Enrollment Continues to Stagnate
Last fall's enrollment figures were still well below pre-pandemic levels, new federal data show.
3 min read
Scarce classroom of students taking exams at their desks with empty desks in the foreground.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Citing Safety and Challenges Serving Marginalized Students, Principals Eye the Exit Door
Nearly 40 percent of principals say they plan to quit soon—a finding that probably reflects stressful work conditions.
4 min read
Woman standing in front of exit door.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Are Secondary School Principals and Their Students on the Same Page?
A new poll of secondary school principals and their students show some key differences in how they see school.
2 min read
Unhappy woman with head in her hands and shown with paint splatter effect
E+/Getty
School & District Management Medicaid Changes Could Provide a Big Boost to School Mental Health Services
A new law could make it easier for schools to bill Medicaid for services like counseling and health screenings.
6 min read
A boy sits on a small wooden chair, leaning over a small wooden table to color as he talks to a woman who sits across from him on a low grey sofa.
mmpile/E+