December 13, 2013

Student access to digital options is still determined by zip code

There is one common theme to each Keeping Pace report in recent years: K-12 student access to digital options is still dependent on zip code for students in most states. While the broad and deep amount of activity in a state like Florida gets a lot of attention from the media, there are many more states where access is spotty.

The Single-District section of Keeping Pace 2012 (pp. 20-21) looked at four different surveys / reports from 2010-2012. The National Center for Education Statistics released the first report in late 2011,  the California eLearning Census reports from 2011 and 2012 , a survey from the Southern Regional Education Board, and a survey of blended learning activity in rural Colorado facilitated by our team here at Evergreen (link). All three made similar discoveries:

  • A growing number of districts, typically between 50-60% of those surveyed, report some distance learning activity. When blended learning is included, this number likely rises to 75% of districts (see the Single-district programs section in Keeping Pace 2013 on p. 17).
  • The significant majority of those districts are serving a very small number of students with distance options, often a handful of credit recovery or honors courses.
  • A small percentage of districts, perhaps only 10%, are offering a wide range of online and blended options to their students.

These findings were echoed in a recent report from K12 Inc., “Benchmark Study 2013:  Second annual review of best practices for implementing online learning in K–12 school districts.” A wide variety of district sizes and types (rural, suburban, urban, etc.) were surveyed in spring 2013, and 165 respondents who offer some form of online learning answered a variety of questions about their programs. Although the survey size is small, and there is a likely selection bias, the results are consistent with the findings of earlier reports in the field. These results from the K12 Inc. report include:

  • 82% of districts offer an online credit recovery program.
  • The larger the district in terms of number of students served, the more likely it is to offer an online learning program. 45% of districts over 10,000 students offer an online program, whereas only 31% of districts with under 1,000 students offer an online program.

The one surprise for me in this report was that more small and medium-sized districts than large districts indicated that blended learning was the primary online learning model offered to students, rather than online learning. 68% of districts under 1,000 students and 70% of districts that serve 1,000-10,000 students offer blended learning, but only 55% of districts serving over 10,000 students do so.

Our primary theme, and biggest concern, is reinforced yet again by this study. The Conclusion in Keeping Pace 2013 (pp. 42-43) closes with the following:

For students, there is a substantial difference between going to school in a state committed to quality online and blended learning opportunities, and a state without. This difference is large and growing, and threatens to open a new educational digital divide: one separating students who have access to 21st century learning opportunities, and those who do not. In its second decade, Keeping Pace will be dedicated to shining a bright light on this divide and arming policymakers and practitioners with the data they need to bridge it. 


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