KP 2014: Growth in students in fully online schools appears to be slowing

We have completed writing and editing of Keeping Pace 2014, and will be releasing the report at the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium in Palm Springs during the first week of November. In the next few weeks we will highlight some key findings here on the blog. Every year in Keeping Pace, we look at the status of online schools that enroll students from across multiple districts in a state, and may attract students from across the entire state. We count the number of states that allow these types of schools, and the number of students attending these schools.

Our count for KP 2014 shows that thirty states have fully online schools enrolling students from across the entire state*. For school year (SY) 2013–14, we estimate that about 316,000 students attended these statewide fully online schools, a year over year increase of 6%.

Many of these schools are charter schools, often authorized by a state-level authorizer. Some of the online schools are run by districts that attract students from other districts across the state. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arizona are the states with the most fully online schools and students in absolute numbers. No state has more than about 3% of its students attending fully online schools, and states with relatively high percentages of students in such schools (between 1.5% and 3%), but lower absolute numbers, include Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho.

Why is growth slowing? Several factors appear to be in play. First, fewer states are allowing these schools to open for the first time, or often are doing so with restrictions (e.g., limits on the number of online schools that may open, or the total number of students who may attend them). We counted 30 states allowing these types of schools in 2011, and while some states are now allowing fully online schools that didn’t three years ago (e.g. Maine and New Mexico), other states that used to have a small number of fully online schools no longer do (e.g. Missouri and Virginia).

Second, in most states that have had online schools for a decade or more, and have the largest online student populations, growth in the number of students attending these schools is slowing.

It’s possible that some of the growth is shifting from statewide online schools, for which enrollment numbers are found relatively easily, to single district online schools, which are very difficult to track. In addition, students may be moving to single district blended schools that have some required onsite component, instead of attending a school that is entirely online.

* Technically, California does not allow any statewide online schools, because of its requirement that schools enroll students only from within contiguous counties. However, for simplicity we count California as among the states with online schools statewide, because at least one fully online school is available to all students in the state.