California eLearning Census findings

The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) has published its 2014 California eLearning Census, finding, in its words, “Increasing Depth and Breadth.” We'll look at the summary findings today, and dig into some of the district comments in a post next week. The key points include:

  • “The census counted 174,632 virtual and blended students in 2013-2014, a 39% increase since last year.”
  • “[T]he virtual student population has remained stable since 2012” at about 24,000 students.
  • “[T]he number of blended students skyrocketed this year, increasing 49% since 2013.”
  • [T]he top 25% of districts and charters continue to contribute a significant proportion of the total eLearning population, [but]…eLearning adoption is broadening across a greater percentage of schools and…the number of participating students at each school is steadily rising.”
  • Charter schools are adopting elearning at far faster rates than traditional districts (287% growth compared to 43% growth), although districts have more blended students because the large majority of students attend public non-charter schools.

A key aspect of the report is that it is a census, not a sample, and 69% of districts and charter schools did not respond. Although it seems plausible that the schools with the most online and blended students would report their results, Brian Bridges of CLRN estimates that the number of blended students in California may be double the number counted, and the number of online students may be as much as 25% higher than reported. He cautions that these are both estimates.

Given the uncertainty in numbers, the trends are particularly important. In addition to the 49% annual increase in blended students, the CLRN blog reports that “74% more students are blending their learning now than were in 2012.”

The lack of growth in the number of online students is also intriguing, and we will be looking at this number in our Keeping Pace research during the summer months. The CLRNS blog posits that “it’s…possible that state regulations have restricted district opportunities to offer virtual schooling.” That may be true, especially given that states with much smaller total student populations (e.g. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona) have significantly larger online student populations, but it also raises the question of why more online charter schools don’t exist. The most likely answer appears to be the restriction that online schools may only serve students in contiguous counties.