Keeping Pace in Review: Single-District Programs

Keeping Pace 2013 is released, and is available for download at Over the coming weeks we’re going to post highlights of the report here in our blog. District online and blended programs—those that are created by a school district, entirely or primarily for that district’s students—are the largest and fastest-growing segment of online and blended learning, as they have been for several years. The numbers of programs and students, however, are not well known. In other categories of programs, data are generally more available because either 1) the schools are public schools that report data to the state and are identified as online (e.g., fully online charter schools); or 2) the number of programs is limited so we are able to track many of them down and contact them directly (e.g., state virtual schools and large consortium or district programs). Neither of these is true of district programs. Most states do not require single-district programs to report online or blended learning enrollments any differently than they would report traditional classroom enrollments.

In recent years the understanding of district programs has partially improved, although the picture remains murky. Keeping Pace 2012 looked at a series of studies that reviewed distance learning nationally, or online and blended learning regionally. These studies were done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) in 2012 and 2013, the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and the Evergreen Education Group (for rural Colorado). Taken together these reports painted a picture of a quickly growing field of options for many students across the country. Based on those numbers in Keeping Pace 2012 we said ‘The total number of students taking part in [online and blended learning] is…likely several million, or slightly more than 5% of the total K-12 student population across the United States.” We believe that the number reported last year has continued to grow steadily, although not explosively, and that most of the students and most of the growth is in single-district programs.

It is clear that an increasing number of districts are making online and blended options available to their students, and that in SY 2013-14 we believe that more than 75% of districts have some online or blended options. It is also apparent that most districts have only a small percentage of students taking advantage of these online and blended opportunities, and many of those are in one category (e.g., recovering credit, taking online Advanced Placement or dual credit courses). Most of these districts are using a single provider for their online courses, which may be a state virtual school or a private provider furnishing course content, the LMS, and perhaps the teacher.

Often one or more schools in the district have a learning lab with computers where students access the courses. Districts that are implementing blended schools may not be using fully online courses, but instead may be using a digital courseware provider that is focused on developing skills, usually in mathematics or reading/writing. At the other end of the spectrum are the relatively few districts offering a comprehensive set of online and blended courses to a significant percentage of the district’s students. We estimate that less than 10% of all districts fall into this category. These districts are typically relatively large, and some of the largest district programs are filling in a gap in states that do not have state virtual schools.

  • Nashville supports supplemental online classes and a fully online program through its MNPS (Metro Nashville Public School) Virtual School. Students can choose from a comprehensive course catalog of core, elective, and Advanced Placement® courses, and all courses are taught by local teachers.
  • Clark County School District Virtual High School (a district program) launched in fall 2004. It served 28,391 supplemental course enrollments in SY 2012-13, an annual increase of 184%, as well as approximately 180 fully online students, an increase of 21%. The enrollment total included 6,349 course enrollments in summer 2013, an increase of 32%. The majority of its enrollments are in district.
  • Riverside Virtual School (RVS) offers comprehensive online and blended learning programs to Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) students as well as out-of-district students. It served 1,803 course enrollments for full-time students, a 4% annual increase, and 3,396 supplemental course enrollments, a 15% annual increase, for a total of 5,199 course enrollments during SY 2012-13. RUSD is one of the few districts in the country that tracks blended learning enrollments, serving 22,700 students in SY 2012-13, an increase of 27%.

These districts are among those that are offering a fully online option to students, often for students who are hospitalized or homebound, or who are unable to attend physical schools for some other reason. The creation of fully online schools by individual districts appears to be a growing trend, as in past years most fully online schools were charter schools serving students from multiple districts.