February 12, 2007
Data Show Virtual Students Underperforming at Every Grade Level

The latest “big thing” in education is for states to pass laws to create virtual public schools, essentially creating a small public school in the home of each participant—in the name of increasing parents’ educational choices.

But if the Idaho experience is any indication, legislators should look beyond the promotional hype at the hard numbers. There is trouble in virtual land.

Idaho has four public-school-at-home (PSAH) programs. The students are required to take the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), like all public school students.

But for the second year in a row now, the PSAH students underperformed their contemporaries who were taught in a conventional brick-and-mortar school setting. Statistics from the Idaho Board of Education indicated that in 2005, across all grades and subjects, 79.4 % of all Idaho public school students scored “proficient” or above, but only 71.2% of PSAH students did.

It was the same story the following year. In 2006, statistics from the Idaho Board of Education indicate that 81.8% of all Idaho public school students scored “proficient” or above, but only 72.1% of PSAH students did.

For both years, the PSAH students underperformed in every grade level tested (3 through 8 and 10). Sometimes the disparity was great. For example, in 2006 the disparity at the third grade level was 85.8% to 68.7%, a difference of 17 percentage points. Sometimes the disparity was small. In 2005, the disparity at the 5th grade level was only 78.8% to 75.7%. But there was no grade level where the PSAH students equaled or exceeded brick-and-mortar students.

These numbers should flash yellow warning lights to lawmakers eager to jump into the next “big thing” again.

On the other hand, multiple studies show that homeschoolers outperform others. For example, Dr. Lawrence Rudner’s 1999 study of over 20,000 homeschooled students showed that by the 2nd grade, homeschoolers score 1 full grade level ahead of others. By the 5th grade, they score nearly 2 grade levels ahead. By the 7th, they score 3 grade levels ahead and by the 9th grade they score an astonishing 4 grade levels ahead of others.

No government program is better than the “mom and dad” program—where loving parents have full control and responsibility for their own child’s education.

 Other Resources

Idaho Virtual School Student Performance, Idaho Board of Education website:

Figures derived from these statistics and used in this article.