The eighth annual Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning, released today at the Virtual School Symposium in Indianapolis, finds that single-district online programs—many of which include blended learning—are the fastest-growing segment of online education this year. (Single-district online programs are created by a district for the students in that district only.)
Another area of growth is consortium programs, which usually involve several districts banding together to pool resources and share expertise. Part of the reason for this is the decrease in state funding available for state-level virtual education opportunities, the report says.
The report notes that state virtual schools are also splitting into two categories—those with sustainable funding models that are making a significant impact on learning, and those that are not receiving reliable support from states. State virtual schools accounted for 536,000 course enrollments for the 2010-11 school year, an increase of 19 percent over the previous year.
Other factors, such as the Common Core state standards as well as the frequent mergers of private online education providers, have significantly affected the landscape of online education in the U.S., the report says. In addition, several states have passed laws that will affect the way that virtual education operates in those states, the report notes.
This year marks a shift in the way that educators are thinking about online learning, the report states. Those wishing to be innovative are steering away from 'traditional' virtual school models of fully online virtual education and instead opting for blended learning or other methods instead. Says the report:
A tangible sense exists in many states that there is no need for a state virtual school; that pioneering states and educators should instead look for the next thing. Certainly further innovation is a worthy goal, but this view leaves behind the students in nearly all states who do not have widespread access to online options.
The Keeping Pace report also includes state profiles of virtual learning initiatives, definitions of online learning terms, as well as an entire section that defines and explains blended learning. There is also a breakdown of key policy issues, such as funding, demographics of online students, accreditation, pre-service online teacher training, and online learning graduation requirements.
Clearly, there is a lot to absorb in this year's report, which can be downloaded for free from the Keeping Pace website.