Keeping Pace 2013 preview: Multi-district fully online schools

Among the data points that Keeping Pace has tracked for several years is the number of students attending fully online schools that operate across states (or, in California, across multiple districts because no online schools can operate statewide). These schools are particularly important to the online and blended learning landscape, even though they collectively serve a small percentage of students, because they are meeting the needs of students who are looking for an online alternative to their traditional school for their entire education, not just for a course or two. These are schools without much (if any) onsite component, because the students are drawn from a large geographic area, making an onsite element difficult. Because they operate mostly or entirely at a distance, these schools have been pioneers in many elements of online instruction (along with state virtual schools, which provide fully online supplemental courses). In addition, these schools have been the focus of extensive media attention about online learning, and therefore epitomize online learning for many people.

For SY 2012-13, we count 30 states with multi-district fully online schools serving about 310,000 total students. (We realize that the school in DC isn’t multi-district, but for both DC and Hawaii, both of which are single districts, we count fully online schools as being in the multi-district category—if they exist.)  The number represents an increase of 13% over last year’s count, and is equivalent to just under 1% of all students in all states that allow these schools.

We estimate the 310,000 students in fully online schools by counting slightly over 295,000 students and adding a 5% factor because we believe that we are missing some students.

For those who are interested in our methods and how they have evolved over the years: the uncounted factor has been applied each year to determine Keeping Pace estimates, and the factor is decreasing as we believe our counts are becoming more accurate. As I’ve discussed in other posts, there is art as well as science in these estimates.

In an upcoming post we will look at some specific state policy changes affecting fully online schools.