Keeping Pace 2015 report is now available online

We released the Keeping Pace 2015 print report at the inacol symposium a couple of weeks ago, and the pdf is now available for download as well. A report that is more than 120 pages long is difficult to summarize in one or a few blog posts, but here I’ll summarize a few key ideas that we explore in more detail in the report. Key findings of Keeping Pace 2015 include the following:

  • The center of online learning activity and growth continues to shift from state-level organizations, such as state virtual schools and online charter schools, to individual districts and schools. Schools and districts are exercising greater control over their online and digital learning programs as affordable options become more available, schools’ expertise grows, curriculum and technology products improve, and teachers become more skilled at integrating online courses and techniques into their instruction. Much like today’s musical artists who often sample other music to re-mix, re-envision, and re-create new songs and sounds, practitioners today are taking different elements of digital learning, with varied backgrounds and sources, for use in their own schools, programs, and classrooms.
  • Thirty-one states had full-time online schools operating statewide in school year (SY) 2014-15; 25 of those states have virtual charter schools. We estimate that approximately 275,000 students were enrolled in over 3.3 million semester equivalent online courses in online charter schools in the 2014-15 SY.
  • State virtual schools are operating in 24 states, providing supplemental online courses to about 462,000 students, taking a collective total of about 815,000 semester equivalent online courses, a 10% increase over SY 2013-14.
  • Based on extrapolations from a wide range of suppliers, state agencies and schools, we estimate another 2.2 million students taking a total of about 3.8 million online courses. These are mostly in addition to the state virtual school numbers. Together, they sum to over 4.5 million supplemental online course enrollments taken by K-12 students in SY 2014-15.
  • Enrollments in individual online courses trend heavily toward students in grades 9-12, with 84% of supplemental courses being taken by high school students. Enrollments in full-time online schools are more evenly distributed with 46% of course enrollments in grades 9-12, 28% in grades 6-8 and 26% in grades K-5.
  • Course enrollments by subject area are concentrated in core subject areas of math, language arts, science, and social studies, with 74% of courses in these categories. This percentage incudes both supplemental and full-time course enrollments. Electives comprise 26.1% of all course enrollments, including world languages, physical education and many other courses. These data support the anecdotal evidence that schools will often select elective online courses that the school does not offer. The number of world languages courses (2.5% of the total) is lower than many observers might expect, suggesting that the proverbial example of a rural student taking a Mandarin course, while important to the student, is not nearly as common as core subjects and other electives.
  • Digital learning activity across the private school sector ranges from full-time online schools and supplemental online courses, to schools that are heavily focused on integrating digital content and tools into their existing instructional approaches. Key barriers to increased adoption in private schools are 1) teachers tend to have greater control of their classrooms than in public schools, making school-level changes more difficult; and 2) parents are generally satisfied with existing private school options or don’t believe that online or blended learning models will result in improved learning.
  • Policy remains important to improving and expanding the digital learning landscape, particularly with regards to whether students have access to online schools or online courses. However, as more delivery of online learning migrates to schools and districts, state policy has less impact on those programs and on the overall landscape. Some of the key policy issues touched on in this year’s report include data privacy, course access, accountability, online learning graduation requirements, and teacher certification.

All of these topics are examined in more detail in the report, and we will review some of them in more detail in upcoming blog posts.