January 12, 2016

Profiles of online learning in school districts

Several previous posts have explored key data points in the overall K-12 online learning landscape,and examples from specific states and districts. Here we add information drawn from some of the many profiles that we published in the report to further describe some prominent examples of online learning. These are all condensed versions; for more detail see the full report. Note that we do not suggest that these districts are representative of school district activity generally; in fact these are among the districts with some of the larger and longer-established programs.

Clark County School District and the Nevada Learning Academy

Clark County School District (CCSD) is the fifth largest school district in the U.S., with about 345,000 students, and unique in that it serves 71% of all Nevada public school students-a far larger percentage of the state total than any other district. Among the district’s offerings is the Nevada Learning Academy (NVLA), the primary provider of both supplemental and full-time online learning opportunities for grades 6–12. Launched in fall 2004 as the Clark County Virtual High School, it combined with the Academy of Individualized Studies program, expanded online courses for middle schools in the district, and became NVLA. In addition to NVLA, CCSD high schools and middle schools use supplemental online courses from an outside vendor, taught by CCSD teachers. CCSD had 46,957 students take one or more online courses in SY 2014–15 and summer 2015, plus another 955 full-time online students enrolled at NVLA.

NVLA provides a variety of online options including a middle school hybrid model, where full time online students come to campus two days a week for teacher led-instruction and project-based learning, and two competency-based online programs for high school students. NVLA’s Credit by Exam gives high school students an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge equivalent to high school course work through an examination. During the 2014–15 SY, NVLA conducted 1,691 Credit by Exam assessments; the most common subject was Spanish.

The NVLA independent study program offers high school students flexibility within a mastery-based system. Students combine online content and instruction with proctored end-of-unit assessments until they complete the course. This allows for a shortened timeframe for course completion, typically 6 to 9 weeks. All online classrooms have highly qualified teachers in the subject area. In addition, students have access to a licensed teacher who acts a guide or coach at their assigned proctored testing site.

CCSD is also creating district-wide online courses for use outside of NVLA. During the 2014–15 SY, 1,439 students were enrolled in CCSD District-created online courses at their neighborhood schools, using site-based teachers.

Frederick County Virtual School

The Frederick County Virtual School (FCVS) has been providing a variety of online options to Frederick County Public School students since 2007. Frederick County is a mid-sized system in Maryland with about 41,000 students in 66 schools. FCVS had 920 high school students take online courses in a hybrid format during the 2014–15 SY, with another 430 in summer 2015.

The Frederick County Virtual School had 50 online teachers in the 2014–15 SY, all from the Frederick County school system. FCVS provides a variety of online programs targeted for specific student audiences, including:

  • Virtual Outside of School (VOS) provides supplemental online courses for students to complete coursework outside of the school day with an online teacher of record guiding the learning. VOS students are required to attend one face-to-face session once each month over a 15-week schedule.
  • Flexible Evening High School (FEHS) is a rolling enrollment program (start dates monthly) that provides additional face-to-face support, meeting two nights each week. FEHS is an alternative to the comprehensive campus-based learning environment.
  • Virtual After School (VAS) and Virtual During School (VDS) programs are focused on credit recovery. VAS students meet with teachers 2–3 times per week, where VDS students meet with a mentor every day. The VAS and VDS courses may last the entire school year.
  • Partially Online Summer Session (POSS) is a summer-only, open enrollment program intended for independent and self-motivated learners and requires face-to-face sessions once each week for six weeks.
  • Site-Based Summer Session (SBSS) is a summer-only credit recovery program with set start and end dates where school staff identifies student participation. Students meet in face-to-face morning sessions four times each week for six weeks.

FCVS also offers the online College Exam Preparation (CEP) program for students planning to take college entrance and Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

Gwinnett Online Campus

Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) is a large suburban school district outside of Atlanta, Georgia, with approximately 173,000 students. The Gwinnett Online Campus is an accredited school within GCPS that had 5,124 course enrollments during the 2014–15 SY, plus an additional 2,397 enrollments over the summer of 2015. Gwinnett Online Campus (GOC) also enrolled over 500 full-time students in grades 4–12 in SY 2014–15, all GCPS resident students.

The instructional program for students in grades 4–9 offers a blended approach in which supplemental online students can attend Learning Labs on campus two mornings per week or login from home to join the live class sessions. Students meet face-to-face with their online teacher once per week. High school students taking online courses are able to come to campus once per week to receive additional curricular support. Students enrolled in science courses also attend live science labs every three weeks. About 65% of course enrollments during the 2014–15 SY were in the core subject areas of math, English language arts, science and social studies.

Gwinnett Online Campus students score above the average on district developed assessments in the majority of subject areas across grades 4–12. All state assessments and final exams are taken on campus in proctored settings.

Bend-La Pine Schools Online

Bend-La Pine is the 6th largest school district in Oregon, with 28 schools and about 17,100 students in grades K–12. It also has a comprehensive online program, Bend-La Pine Schools Online, which serves about 3,000 students per year with full-time and part-time online course options. The program began ten years ago by offering online courses to high school students across the district. The program has grown and is in its fourth year of providing a far wider range of full-time and part-time online courses for students who may access the courses from a district school, or from home. The district partners with Fuel Education, which provides online courses and state certified teachers who teach the courses. The options are in four categories, all of which serve students at all grade levels:

  • Online courses for students who are enrolled full-time in district schools (in Oregon, fulltime is 4 or more classes). This is the largest single category, with about 2,000 students taking online courses and 5–7 courses at a physical school. Most of these students are in high school and about 75% enroll in core, standard, honors or AP original credit courses. About 25% use credit recovery courses. The district allows students to take as many online courses as they would like, at district expense, even though each student’s funding is capped at 1 FTE.
  • Full-time online school for students who take courses from home. The full-time online school has about 400 students, about half of whom are high school students. The number of elementary students in the full-time online school is growing rapidly—likely because of the addition of a local, district-employed K–5 teacher who provides significant enrichment.
  • Part-time online enrollment combined with part-time homeschool. This is a smaller category, but one that the district expects to grow. Oregon law is unusual in that it allows students to enroll in a public school for between one and three courses; in these cases the school receives part-time funding for the student that is equal to half of the funding for a full-time student. This funding mechanism allows the district to offer online courses to students who are also homeschooled.
  • Part-time online enrollment combined with part-time on-site schooling for K–12. This is the smallest category, but is also growing.

Bend-La Pine Schools Online is a program of the district, not a school. Students are officially considered to be enrolled in one of the physical schools, and may take part in extracurricular activities

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