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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Just How Many Are There?

I had what I thought was a very intelligent question posted in a comment on Saturday to an entry that I made back near the end of September:

Doc said...
Can someone point me to statistics for K-12 enrollment in online courses?
I.e., how many K12 students are taking one or more online courses?
Let's see if we can address this one for Doc...

The easy answer to your question is that we simply don't know. Below is a section from the literature review of my dissertation that speaks to that issue. As you'll see there are many estimates, others tht have figures that include various types of distance education (not only virtual schooling), and then some specific isolated numbers. I should note that the most recent speculation from the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) is:

"In the United States, there were more than 500,000 enrollments in online
courses in grades K-12and more than one-third of public school districts offered
some type of eLearning during the2005-2006 school year. Research has been done
on several virtual schools in North America;however, little information is
available about current K-12 e-learning initiatives across the world."
Anyway, that section from my dissertation:

Shortly after virtual schools were first introduced to rural schools, Clark (2000) presented his important overview entitled Virtual High Schools: State of the States. In this document he outlined three statewide virtual schools that had already been created (i.e., Florida, New Mexico, and Utah), three statewide virtual schools that were in the planning stages (i.e. Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan), and two highly successful non-statewide initiatives (i.e., the VHS and CLASS.com). The following year, he indicated that there were at least fourteen states with operational or planned virtual schools and extrapolated that there were between 40,000 to 50,000 students enrolled in virtual courses in the United States (Clark, 2001). That same year in the monthly magazine published by the National School Boards Association, Vail (2001) found that there were more than fifty charter and public schools running online programs in at least 30 states. This represents significant growth during the first five years that this form of distance education has been available in the United States.

The last four years have continued to see similar growth in the United States. In a summary of the five years of evaluation of the VHS, Zucker and Kozma (2003) reported that the consortium then contained almost 200 high schools within 24 states, as well as an expansion to 10 foreign countries. Two years later, Pape et al. (2005) indicated that this consortium had increased to 232 schools in 26 states and 11 countries. In their review of state-level policy for the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), Watson, Winograd and Kalmon (2004) found that eleven of the twenty-two states that they surveyed had a substantial level of activity, or the presence of legislation and/or regulations concerning virtual schooling. In a more comprehensive follow-up to that study, Watson and Kalmon (2005) surveyed all fifty US states and found that approximately half of them had significant policies for virtual schooling. They also found that there were 21 states that had virtual schools operating on a statewide basis (although in some instances these were district-based or university-based programs that had students enrolled from across the state). In their second follow-up report, the authors found that there were now 24 statewide virtual schools (Watson & Ryan, 2006).

Huerta and González (2004) found that over the 5 years preceding their study there had been approximately 60 cyber charter schools in 15 states serving over 16,000 students. Setzer and Lewis (2005) speculated that there were approximately 328,000 public school enrollments in online or two-way television distance education programs in the United States. However, it should be noted that this figure would include all online distance education programs, not just virtual school students. The combination of state sanctioned virtual high schools, virtual charter schools, students served by online homeschool association endeavors (such as the online course offerings of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Association), university laboratory schools, and other online course offerings (such as commercial ventures like APEX Inc. and Class.com Inc.) has provided a growing opportunity for secondary school students to complete individual courses, and in many instances entire high school diplomas, through virtual school offerings. Rapidly growing programs such as these provided the basis for the National Education Association’s prediction that by 2006 a majority of American high school students will have completed at least one online course before graduation (Fulton, 2002a). The potential that a majority of high school students have completed an online course was unlikely, however, there have been recent developments which will make this prediction possible. For example, in the Michigan Merit Curriculum Guidelines: Online Experience that Government of Michigan outlined the decision to be the first state in America to require that all students will be required to take at least one online course as a requirement for graduation (Department of Education, 2006). During the 2003-04 school year there were less than 8,000 student enrollments for the Michigan Virtual High School had (Borja, 2005), but there were over 525,000 high school students in Michigan during this same time period (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005). So the potential for a dramatic increase in the number of students enrolled in virtual school courses, in both Michigan and the country as a whole, is high.

In the Canadian context, from 1995 to 1999 there were 23 virtual school programs operating in the province of Alberta (Muirhead, 1999). In a national survey of virtual schooling in Canada, O’Haire, Froese-Germain and Lane- De Baie (2003) reported that Alberta had the most students engaged in virtual schooling, with approximately 4,500 full-time and 2,500 part-time K-12 students in more than 20 schools. Over the past four years, the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation in Newfoundland and Labrador has increased from 200 student enrolments in ten courses representing 76 different schools in 2001-02, to 1,500 student enrollments in thirty-five courses in 95 different schools in 2004-05 (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2004). Contact North, the virtual school serving Northern Ontario, reported 11,222 registrations in their 548 courses for the year 2000-01, an increase of 12% over the previous year (Betty, Hebert, & Sefton, 2002). More recently in British Columbia, a partnership of eighteen school districts offered a pilot electronic distance education program for 2200 students in 2001-02 (Kuehn, 2002). With over 17,000 student enrollments in distance education, five years later the province of British Columbia launched a new province-wide virtual school, Learnnow BC, to provide rural and remote students “with more course choices and flexibility” (Government of British Columbia, 2006). This growth has even been experienced in urban areas where over the past four years the Vancouver School Board (the largest in British Columbia) and the Toronto District School Board (the largest in Canada) have established their own virtual schools. Even with this growth in Canada and the United States, Clarke (2003) concluded that the majority of schools that participate in K-12 distance education and virtual schooling are rural and small schools.

Selected Bibliography:

Betty, D., Hebert, W. S., & Sefton, D. (2002). Employing open and distance education learning to meet regional social needs: The northern Ontario experience. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Distance Education. Retrieved December 9, 2004, from http://www.cnorth.on.ca/cnorth/CADE/CADE_May_2002.htm.

Borja, R. R. (2005). Cyber schools’ status - As the popularity of virtual schools grows, the funding models for state-sponsored efforts differ across the country [Electronic Version]. Education Week, 2, 22-23. Retrieved November 8, 2006 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2005/05/05/35state-s1.h24.html.

Clark, T. (2000). Virtual high schools: State of the states - A study of virtual high school planning and pperation in the United States: Center for the Application of Information Technologies, Western Illinois University.

Clark, T. (2001). Virtual schools: Trends and issues - A study of virtual schools in the United States. San Francisco, CA: Western Regional Educational Laboratories.

Clark, T. (2003). Virtual and distance education in American schools. In M. G. M. W. G. Anderson (Ed.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 673-699). Mahwah, NJ Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Department of Education. (2006). Michigan merit curriculum guidelines: Online experience. Lansing, MI: Government of Michigan.

Fulton, K. (2002). Guide to online high school courses. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
Government of British Columbia. (2006). Province launches new B.C. virtual school, LearnNow BC. Retrieved November 8, 2006, from http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2005-2009/2006EDU0109-001270.htm

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. (2004). CDLI’s reputation continues to grow. Retrieved December 9, 2004, from http://www.gov.nl.ca/releases/2004/edu/0909n04.htm

Huerta, L. A., & González, M. F. (2004). Cyber and home school charter schools: How states are defining new forms of public schooling. Tempe, AZ: Education Policy Research Unit, Arizona State University.

Kuehn, L. (2002). BCTF research report: Developments with distributed learning. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.

Muirhead, B. (1999). The benefits of an online education consortium for Alberta. International Electronic Journal For Leadership in Learning, 3(4).

National Center for Educational Statistics. (2005). State Education Data Profiles. Retrieved November 8, 2006, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/stateprofiles/sresult.asp?mode=full&displaycat=1&s1=26

O'Haire, N., Froese-Germain, B., & Lane-De Baie, S. (2003). Virtual education, real educators: Issues in online learning. Ottawa, On: The Canadian Teachers' Federation.

Pape, L., Adams, R., & Ribeiro, C. (2005). The Virtual High School: Collaboration and online professional development. In Z. L. Berge & T. Clark (Eds.), Virtual schools: Planning for success (pp. 118-132). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Setzer, J. C., & Lewis, L. (2005). Distance education courses for public elementary and secondary school students: 2002-03 Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Vail, K. (2001). Online learning grows up: No longer an experiment, virtual school is here to stay [Electronic Version]. Electronic School. Retrieved July 31, 2005 from http://www.electronic-school.com/2001/09/0901f1.html.

Watson, J., & Ryan, J. (2006). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: A review of state-level policy and practice. Vienna, VA: North American Council for Online Learning.

Watson, J. F., & Kalmon, S. (2005). Keeping pace with K–12 online learning: A review of state-level policy and practice. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

Watson, J. F., Winograd, K., & Kalmon, S. (2004). Keeping pace with K–12 online learning: A snapshot of state-level policy and practice. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

Zucker, A., & Kozma, R. (2003). The Virtual High School: Teaching generation V. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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Blogger Doc said...

This is "Doc." Don't you find it curious that no one really has a handle on the number?

BTW, check out this URL - http://www.ncrel.org/tech/synthesis/synthesis.pdf - for some enrollment data. But it's not very good or very accurate.

It's about time some organization sponsored a national survey like Sloan-C does for postsecondary schools (see http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/index.asp).

3:35 PM  
Blogger MKB said...


The report by Bob, Tom and Rosina is basically a summary of what I have written (except they simply give the organization name of the reports and I give the actual authors). You are correct that some national organization, NACOL maybe, should step forward and actually provide a number.

The main problem with this is twofold, defining what you include and exclude and then getting all of them to release their data.

I think the first one is more problematic, for example, do you include the students of K12, Inc. - who claim to be a cyber school but when you actually examine their method of delivery it is largely independent study with access to online curricular materials (I've talked about this on here before, but if there is no actual teaching going on, should it be included as online learning?)?

It is similar at the post-secondary level, where you have questions of inclusion of correspondence courses or hybrid courses that have some classroom and some online. The difference is that because it has been around longer at the post-secondary level, organizations like Sloan-C have determined definitions for what gets included and excluded.

And I think it will be the same at the K-12 level, give them some time and let it get established, then they'll start to figure out who to count, what to count, and add it all up.


4:20 PM  

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