Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice (2011) is the latest in a series of annual reports that began in 2004 that examine the status of K-12 online education across the country. The report provides an overview of the latest policies, practices, and trends affecting online learning programs across all 50 states.
• Full-time, multi-district online schools continue to grow.
o Even as district programs grow, multi-district schools continue to flourish as well. There are now 30 states with full-time, multi-district schools that enrolled an estimated total of 250,000 students in SY 2010-11, an annual increase of 25%. Maine, Indiana, and Tennessee are among the states that have, in the last two years, changed their laws to allow full-time online schools for the first time, or to allow significant growth in them.
• State virtual schools are dividing into two tiers—those with significant impact and those without— largely based on funding model.
o While 40 states have a state virtual school or similar state-led initiative, these programs are increasingly falling into two divergent categories: those that are sustainably funded at a level to have a real impact on their states, and those that do not have a level of reliable support. States in the former category include Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, Idaho, and Alabama. Other state programs are in decline, mostly due to funding cuts. These include programs in Maryland, Missouri, and California. Nonetheless, all state virtual schools together accounted for 536,000 course enrollments (one student taking one semester-long course) in SY 2010-11, an annual increase of 19%.
• Several states passed important new online learning laws, some of which cited the Ten Elements of Digital Learning created by Digital Learning Now.
o Florida, Utah, Idaho, Ohio, and Wisconsin were among the states passing new online learning laws that will change the education landscape in those states in coming years. Digital Learning Now—an initiative managed by the Foundation for Excellence in Education in partnership with the Alliance for Excellent Education—released its Ten Elements of Digital Learning in December 2010. Some of the new laws cite the DLN elements.
• The Common Core State Standards are taking hold, common assessments are next, and open educational resources are an increasingly important element.
o The move toward the Common Core means that providers are able to create content for use across dozens of states and by millions of students. That is helping push online and blended learning, and the trend will accelerate as the common assessment consortiums progress. Open educational resources, from sources including Khan Academy and the National Repository of Online Courses, are helping districts add a digital component without investing in developing or acquiring content.
• The provider landscape is changing rapidly.
o Both new start-ups and consolidations are affecting the market landscape. In the past year Kaplan acquired Insight Schools, and then K12 Inc. bought Kaplan’s Virtual Education division. Pearson Education acquired Connections Education. New providers such as Education Elements, a start-up focused on blended learning, continue to enter the field. Providers are increasingly offering services that combine elements of content, technology, instruction, and other services.
• Special student needs gain new focus.
o The release of a Request for Proposal in mid-2011 by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), for the establishment of a Center for Online Learning and Students with Disabilities, suggests that the federal government believes that online learning can serve all students. In general, there is a newly sophisticated emphasis on meeting special student needs in online and blended learning.