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digital divide

This learning style is creating a new digital divide in the U.S.

Blended, online learning is giving only students in some states the advantage they need

learning-online-divideEducation technology can enable achievement for students with a variety of learning styles. But it also creates a problem: For students who don’t have access to these forms of technology-enabled learning—bring-your-own-device, for instance—the digital divide grows. Now, as many states across the country begin to support multiple online and blended learning programs, states that still don’t support these learning styles are creating an alarming disadvantage for their students.

Perhaps one of the most definitive sources on the online and blended learning landscape in the U.S. today is “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning,” a massive data report compiled by the Evergreen Education Group, a private consulting and advisory firm specializing in education and education technology.

The report provides a snapshot of the K-12 online and blended learning landscape across 50 states as of late 2013, and makes many forward-looking statements on the future of online and blended learning. One of those statements describes the new digital divide.

“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,” emphasizes the report. “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.”

The new digital divide is growing, notes the report, because the influence of online and blended learning has become so widespread in a number of innovative states.

(Next page: Facts you should know about online and blended learning in states)

For example, according to the Education & Workforce Committee, nearly 70 percent of school districts now offer blended learning programs

To provide a clearer picture of exactly how widespread online and blended learning have become, the report found that:

  • At least 24 states and Washington, D.C. have blended schools. Though many of these schools are charters, an increasing number of these schools are traditional public schools that are changing their teaching and learning models to better meet student needs and sometimes to cut costs.
  • At least 75 consortium programs–an increasingly important online learning access point for students and a way for districts to cost-efficiently invest in online blended programs—operate across the country, linking districts across counties and local education agencies to offer locally facilitated online options to students.
  • An increasing number of private/independent schools are also including supplemental online courses and blended learning in their options for students. The report counts eight states that allow private students to take courses from state-supported supplemental programs while maintaining their status as private students.
  • 29 states support statewide supplemental options for their students through either state virtual schools or state-supported course choice programs.
  • Course choice programs, operating in seven states during the school year (SY) 2013-14, are the focus of much conversation and some legislation in 2013.
  • As of fall 2013, four states have online course graduation requirements in order for students to graduate from high school, and two more states have policies in development that are likely to be in place for students beginning in 2014.

The best and worst states for online and blended learning

Based on extensive research, the report notes how many online, blended, and supplemental learning programs each state supports, which includes factors such as funding and state policy, and breaks down programs across different grades in K-12.

Ratings are based on expected availability of online learning options to students of all grade levels in all geographic areas of the state during SY 2013-14. Availability is, in turn, based on the existence and attributes of programs, state policy, and funding, and the proportion of the student population that took part in online courses and schools during SY 2012-13.

Blended learning programs that rely on students being in a physical school are not included in the assessment because, by definition, they are not available to all students statewide, with some exceptions for large blended programs in sizeable districts if they serve a proportionally large number of students in the state.

(Next page: Best and worst states)

Best States:

1. Florida: the first state to provide full- and part-time funded options to all students in grades K-12; an estimated 240,000 students took at least one online class in SY 2012-13. FLVS is the largest state virtual school; it successfully served 410,962 course enrollments in SY 2012-13.

2. Minnesota: Many online charter schools and district programs offering part- and full-time options; 27 providers approved by the department of education

[*Kansas, Virginia and Washington are all tied for 3rd place.]

3. Kansas: There are 13 full-time virtual schools, 67 district/building programs, and eight service center programs serving students with supplemental and fully online options. Participating schools and programs may provide supplemental services.

3. Virginia: Virtual Virginia is the state virtual school program; 20 providers who may provide multi-division fully online, supplemental, or blended courses through local school boards are approved for SY 2013-14.

3. Washington: There are 57 approved providers including 18 online course providers, 15 program providers, 19 multi-district online school programs, and 19 single-district online school programs (serving under 10% out-of-district students), serving 19,891 students in part- and full-time programs.

Worst States:

Delaware: No major programs. An Online World Language Program offered by the DOE that started in SY 2012-13 served 700 students in 7th and 8th grades. There are no fully online schools.

Tennessee: One fully online statewide school, at least two fully blended schools, and several district programs including Metro Nashville Public Schools, Memphis Virtual School, and Hamilton County Virtual School.

[*All other states are too similarly profiled]

“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,” concluded the report.

For more detailed information on the online and blended learning digital divide, maps of states with blended schools and virtual schools, policy information, state-by-state profiles, and recommendations, read the report or visit the website.

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