VIENNA, VA, November 1, 2006–A new study shows strong continued growth in online K-12 learning programs in the United States, and increasingly sophisticated state-level policies governing them. According to Keeping Pace with Online K-12 Learning, a Review of State-level Policy and Practice, the third in a series of studies looking at the state of online education across the country, 38 states have either state-led online learning programs, significant policies regulating online education, or both.

The complete Keeping Pace with Online K-12 Learning, a Review of State-level Policy and Practice can be found online, at www.nacol.org.

As of September 2006, 24 states have state-led online education programs, up from 20 in 2005. 26 states have significant state policies for online learning, some with state-led programs; and 12 states have neither a state-led program nor significant state policies. In the past year, numerous states added new state-led programs or passed significant new online learning laws, including: Michigan (new online learning high school graduation requirement); Georgia (now allows cyber charter schools); North Carolina (created North Carolina Virtual Public School); and Missouri (new state-led program for Fall 2007). In addition, some of the New England states have developed cooperative approaches to offering online courses in place of a state-led program, as part of the collaborative Virtual High School.

Most states that have online learning policies but do not have a state-led program have major district-level online programs and/or cyberschools. Unlike state programs like Florida Virtual School or Illinois Virtual High School, which deliver supplemental courses at the high school and middle school level, many of these district programs offer even elementary students complete virtual educations. The growing importance of cyberschool programs like Connections Academy–run either at the district or state level–was underscored in the 2006 Keeping Pace study.

As both supplemental and full time online learning programs have grown, so too have student enrollments. In 2006 many online learning programs around the country posted double-digit growth in student enrollments, ranging from 20 to 50 percent, with the strongest growth–both in programs and enrollments–posted in the Southeast region of the country.

“Online learning continues to grow rapidly across the country as more educators and policymakers recognize the benefits of providing high quality courses over the Internet that are available to students at any time and from any place,” said Susan Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the North American Council for Online Learning. “2006 was a year of strong growth for state-led online learning programs, both in markedly increased enrollments and in supportive policy developments. We saw important online learning policy developments in states like Michigan, Missouri and Kansas, covering areas such as new program models, funding, professional development, program tracking, and accountability for student outcomes.”

John Watson, lead author of Keeping Pace, commented on the need to monitor state-level online learning. “In many states the state-led programs are the drivers of online education practice and policy. By studying and analyzing state-level K-12 online learning trends we get a snapshot of the overall online learning landscape in the U.S. today, as well as a glimpse at the future. It’s clear that online learning will increasingly become a fact of life for American K-12 students, whether they’re enrolled in fulltime virtual schools or statewide supplemental virtual high schools.”

Keeping Pace was written and researched by Evergreen Consulting Associates. It was sponsored and guided by seven organizations with expertise in online learning: Clark County School District (Las Vegas, Nevada), Connections Academy, Florida Virtual School, Illinois Virtual High School, Texas Education Agency, Virtual High School, and Wyoming Department of Education. Additional support for the study was provided by the BellSouth Foundation and the North American Council for Online Learning.

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