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Data & Information


California has more districts and charter schools recognized for incorporating online or blended learning than any other state. Examples include the Riverside, Oakland, and Los Angeles districts, charter schools including Aspire, Summit, Flex Academies, and Rocketship, and at least 42 fully virtual schools that collectively provide all students in the state access to a fully online school. These latter schools are restricted by a requirement that they serve students in contiguous counties only, so the number of schools is higher than it is in states that allow for statewide online enrollment. California does not have a state virtual school, and students have access to supplemental online courses only if those courses are offered by their district or a district partner. The California Department of Education (CDE) has identified more than 70 online charter schools and district online programs through an effort to identify all schools and programs in the state that deliver at least 30% of their instruction online. It launched a searchable map in October 2011 that tags synchronous, asynchronous, and blended learning programs, as well as public, private, and charter programs.  

Fully online schools

California also has numerous online charter schools; these include the California Virtual Academies, a network of nine online charter schools affiliated with K12 Inc.; as well as schools affiliated with Connections Academy, Insight Schools, and Advanced Academics. The California Department of Education reports 56,637 students taking one or more online courses, an annual decrease of 15%, and 14,177 students taking 50% or more of their classes online (a 17% decrease).

State virtual school

The University of California College Prep (UCCP) is a state-led initiative operated by the University of California Santa Cruz and funded through the state academic preparation program. UCCP began as a response to the lack of availability of Advanced Placement courses in many high schools across California. It grew to offer a variety of high school courses and instruction, as well as open educational resources for California schools. In 2009-10, UCCP provided 120 educational nonprofit partners across the state—including 14 county offices of education, about 50 school districts and 40 schools—its online curriculum with instruction and course credit. UCCP is working with the K-12 High-Speed Network (K12HSN), an agency of CDE tasked with providing districts with Internet 2 access, to distribute its courses at no cost to any California school through the Calaxy website as of fall 2010, allowing small and rural schools access to online learning. UCCP and K12HSN also have started RAMP-UP, a project which will provide these services and others to schools lacking college prep resources.

Management of the University of California Online Academy (UCOA), which built on over a decade of course and content development from UC College Prep, has shifted to Scout from UC as of January 2013. Scout is a state program that received $2.4 million in SY 2012-13 under the Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships program to offer Advanced Placement, honors, and “a-g” college preparation courses online. California public school teachers or students may choose to use Scout’s courses to supplement existing curriculum, or as stand-alone courses (although it does not grant credit). Scout offers three options: a free version available to students and teachers, a version with more tools and support for a small fee, or a teacher-led version for a larger fee. Scout served 971 course enrollments in spring and summer 2013.

District programs

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%. Districts and schools across California partner with Riverside through the California Open Campus initiative (CAOC) to access a variety of services including professional development, a learning management system, courses, and sometimes teachers. CAOC has 36 district partners in California as of September 2013, and served 500 students in SY 2012-13.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) offers a variety of online and blended opportunities to its schools, which then develop online programs to meet student needs. Offerings target grades K-12 through a variety of vendors and district-created content and resources. Online offerings have increased significantly in recent years due to a memorandum from the LAUSD Office of Curriculum and Instruction that instructed all schools to offer an online credit recovery option. As a result, there was a significant increase in credit recovery offerings and overall use of online resources to supplement and blend classroom instruction. In 2010-11 there were over 5,000 enrollments using a variety of vendor and internal District-created content to serve credit recovery, credit acceleration, and blended instructional needs. The City of Angels School started as an independent study alternative high school. It began offering a full-time online option in 2010-11 through City of Angels Virtual Academy (CoAVA), serving 50 full-time students in its first year. In both spring 2011 and summer 2011, CoAVA enrolled over 575 students in online credit recovery classes that were available to all LAUSD high school students. San Andreas Alternative Education High School reported 1,500 full-time students. Some programs, such as Pacific Coast High School, have formed consortia for sharing online courses developed by member schools.

Online learning policy history

Online programs in California are governed by independent study regulations and charter school laws. Online courses delivered outside the classroom are subject to independent study regulations for all non-classroom based instruction, including that the student-teacher ratio for independent study cannot exceed the ratio of classroom-based students to classroom-based teachers. “Independent study is an alternative  instructional strategy, not an alternative curriculum. Students work independently, according to a written agreement and under the general supervision of a credentialed teacher.”

  • In 2005 new regulations were created that allow schools to avoid the student-teacher ratio provisions of the law if the school “has and maintains an 8 or above Academic Performance Index (API) rank in either its statewide or similar schools ranking and has no less than a 6 in the other of these two rankings.” In this case the school must spend at least 85% of its budget on instruction but is freed from other expenditure requirements. Other elements of the law include:
    • Instruction must include “standards-based guided lessons, lesson plans, initial testing of students, [and] periodic assessment of student achievement…”
    • Each student must have an individualized learning plan.
    • All students must be given “access to a computer, Internet service, printer, monitor, and standards-aligned materials.”
    • All students eligible for special education services must receive these services, and the charter school must recruit a student population with ethnic and racial representation similar to the counties served by the program.

Online charter schools are governed by both charter school law and the independent study provisions; some of the charter laws are specific to online programs (see SB740, 2001) and others are not.

  • SB247 (2009) allows state funding for textbooks to be used toward the purchase of electronic versions of materials. The initiative required an approval process to ensure each textbook is aligned with the appropriate state standards; 47 textbooks have been reviewed by the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) as of December 2010. In a pilot program started in 2010, Riverside Unified was the first district in the state to use this money to purchase Netbooks for 7th grade students in two middle schools.
  • AB1398 (2009) redefined “technology-based materials” to include basic and supplemental instructional materials, and the physical equipment required to use those materials.
  • Online curriculum may be presented either in a classroom setting or through independent study; the appropriate method of attendance accounting for such classes is dependent upon the instructional setting utilized.
  • For online courses in a classroom setting, in which students are under the “immediate supervision and control” of a teacher, regular average daily attendance funding applied through the provisions of AB294. That law sunsetted in 2007, and no new law has passed in its place. For online courses not offered in a classroom setting, independent study attendance accounting applies.
  • Online charter schools are governed in part by provisions of SB740, passed in 2001, which require a charter school to:
    • Spend 80% or more of total revenues on instruction.
    • Spend 40% or more of public revenues on certificated staff salaries and benefits.
    • Have a pupil-teacher ratio equal or lower than 25:1 or equal to or lower than the pupil teacher ratio in the largest unified school district in the county or counties in which the school operates.

The University of San Diego Center for Educational Policy and Law published A Summary of Existing and Pending Law Involving Online Learning in California Public Schools in November, 2009, a helpful profile of legislation affecting online learning in California.

The University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) designed “a-g” policy standards that all courses must meet in order to satisfy the UC and CSU entrance requirements. While not required for a course to be approved for graduation or offered by an online program, most courses offered in California are designed to meet these standards.

In 2011, the California County Superintendents Educational Services Organization (CCSESA) released the California eLearning Framework, a guide for school districts and schools implementing online and blended learning opportunities for students. The framework examines the national landscape of eLearning and presents four key components of quality online and blended learning opportunities within a California context. 

The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) is a state-funded project that reviews supplemental electronic learning resources, data assessment tools, free web links, and digital textbooks for their alignment to California’s original content standards, the Common Core State Standards, and California’s social content criteria. In November 2010, CLRN collaborated with iNACOL and the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) to co-chair a national committee to continue rewriting the course criteria and reviewer considerations that can be used by any eLearning program. The completed criteria and considerations, published in 2011, are the core criteria for CLRN’s online course reviews.

A consortium of public and private agencies came together to fund the Leading Edge Certification alliance in an effort to address a perceived statewide need for professional development related to online learning. The project is offering 21st century training programs for online teachers, classroom (blended learning) teachers, administrators, teacher librarians and lead learners (course developers) seeking certification in digital skills.

The California Online Learning Collaborative Subcommittee is funded and initiated by the CCSESA. It builds on the eLearning Framework to facilitate collaboration among county offices of education, school districts, and state-level organizations in their use and support of online learning including curriculum resources, technical guidance, advocacy, and professional development. Initially, these collaborations will include gathering and sharing information on purchases of curriculum/courses, learning management systems, and related technologies to assist California counties and districts as they grow their online programs.

AB644 (2012) allows for synchronous, online instruction when computing ADA for students in grades 9-12 beginning in SY 2014-15.

Blended learning

The number of students participating in blended learning grew to 100,882, a 17% increase.

Innovative blended learning charter schools are taking root in California, including Rocketship Education, which enrolled 3,146 students in seven elementary schools in the San Jose area in SY 2012-13. In addition, San Francisco and Silicon Valley Flex Academies are serving about 350 students, Aspire Public Schools has 35 schools in California, KIPP Empower Academy served 330 students in grades K-2 in SY 2012-13, and Summit Preparatory Charter Academy serves about 400 high school students.

Joseph Weller Elementary School in Santa Clara County reported early successes in student achievement, engagement, and discipline after its first year of a fully blended model.


last updated October 9, 2014

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