The Changing face of online education

04/01/2012  |  John Olsen
Virtual Classrooms

The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee achieved a 90 percent-plus graduation rate for the past five years in its online credit recovery and summer intervention programs for at-risk high school students. In Virginia, Spotsylvania County Public Schools reported that in 2010, 92 percent of its students who took online courses passed — including students taking credit recovery courses.

Throughout the country, thousands of school districts have implemented a myriad of online learning programs that solve a wide variety of K–12 education challenges. In addition to full-time online schools, credit recovery and world-languages, schools use supplemental online courses to enhance and expand their core, elective and advanced placement catalogs. Further, online assessment tools help teachers gauge students’ progress to target those falling behind for quick remedial intervention, or to supplement more advanced learners.

Today, administrators and educators throughout the Southeast are embracing online education as an accepted and mainstream part of their pedagogical mission to provide a quality education to every student.

Explosive Growth

Blended Learning

One of the fastest-growing online education models in school districts is “blended” learning, also called “hybrid” learning. Blended learning is any combination of online learning blended with in-classroom instruction. This innovative model is growing more popular as it weaves together the individualized instruction model of online learning with a component of traditional classroom instruction.

The appealing aspect of a blended model is its flexibility. A blended program can be full-time or supplemental. It can vary by the number of days students are in a traditional classroom. It can be designed as a component of conventional schooling or as part of a dropout recovery effort.

The blended model helps educators address pressing challenges, including:

  • Dropout recovery 
  • Credit recovery 
  • Providing courses not currently offered 
  • Retaining/attracting students 
  • Helping struggling students and challenging advanced learners 
  • Reducing overcrowded classrooms 
  • Addressing special populations: at-risk students, working students, teen parents 
  • Preparing students for college

K–12 online education has grown rapidly in recent years. And its long-term prospects to significantly augment traditional brick-and-mortar schools are bright.

According to a recent EdNET Insight report, “State of the K–12 Market 2011,” 75 percent of school districts surveyed now offer online courses compared to just 47 percent in 2010. In addition, the report found the number of school districts that previously had no plans to offer online courses declined from 34 percent in 2010 to just 11 percent in 2011.

“There is explosive growth of online education in the United States, particularly in school districts where online programs are implemented to address student-specific needs,” said Kathleen Brantley, director of EdNET Insight. “Whether for remediation or enrichment purposes, school districts are choosing online content to effectively tailor their curriculums for their student population and to help provide quality education economically.”

The report also confirmed that schools are offering a wider variety of online core, elective, AP, and remedial courses. Based on its survey of instructional and technology decision makers at the district level, the report found that 90 percent of school district respondents said they have implemented or plan to implement online courses to offer credit recovery solutions, and 80 percent said they have added or plan to add online courses not previously available in their school’s curriculum. The number of districts offering or planning to offer AP online courses jumped from 48 percent in 2010 to 64 percent in 2011.

“When we look back from ... some future year, it may be clear in retrospect that 2011 was the year that online and blended learning (transcended) their distance-learning or computer-based instruction origins and (took) root in classrooms and schools across the country,” stated the Evergreen Education Group in its 2011 report, “Keeping Pace With K–12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice.”

According to the report, the online transformation is well under way and accelerating. “Educators who three years ago thought that online learning didn’t have a role in their schools are now realizing that, in fact, online and blended learning should be available to their students...the change of heart may be due to having seen successful online learning in action, to competition, or simply because of the spread of technology through every aspect of their professional field.”

Although online learning and its predecessors — distance education, e-learning, and early computer-based learning initiatives (often experimental) — have been around in various forms for decades, 2011 was a benchmark year for mainstream acceptance and wide implementation of online education.


Innovative Schools Transform Education Through Innovative Online Learning
Tackling At-Risk Students
Clarksville Montgomery County School System (CMCCS) in Tennessee has made great strides educating students in a district with a 45 percent poverty level, coupled with a 70 percent student turnover in some schools because nearly a fourth of all district students are military dependents.

Undaunted by the uphill circumstances, administrators implemented a series of online learning intervention programs in high schools that targeted at-risk students, including through their Alternative School, Virtual School, and Summer Intervention programs.

Using A+nywhere Learning System by K12 (Herndon, Va.), CMCCS students have access to an array of intervention and credit recovery programs that they can access at school or at home, allowing them to learn at their own pace.

The results? CMCCS has seen dramatic results from utilizing the A+ online program, posting a 90 percent completion rate across its three programs during the past several years. In fact, the district-wide graduation rate increased from 76 percent to 93.5 percent over the past five years. Further, the dropout rate decreased from 11 percent to 0.5 percent over the same period.

Graduation Requirement

By 2014, more than 20 million college students will take online courses, according to Ambient Insight, a Monroe, Wash.-based research firm. To effectively prepare students for higher education and a 21st century global workforce, forward-thinking K-12 educators know they must equip their students with online learning skills. In fact, Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Idaho now require students to take an online course as part of graduation requirements. In other states, school districts such as Memphis, TN are taking the lead by mandating online courses as a requirement for graduation.

Another key factor in the surge of K–12 online education is that enrollment numbers are rising —while the funding to serve these students is not growing, and in some cases is being reduced. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) forecasts elementary and secondary school enrollments will set records every year through 2019. Southern states Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are projected to see annual growth rates exceeding 12 percent, some of the largest in the nation, according to the NCES.

No wonder schools across the country are looking to online education to help increase student performance. And, given a limited supply of skilled content and technical personnel, more schools and districts are partnering with online learning providers for cost-effective online solutions. According to the EdNET Insight report, the percentage of public school districts developing their own content for online courses dropped from 28 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2011.

The Growing Case for Online Education

Administrators and educators are finding real-world, online-based solutions to many of their education challenges. When asked in a 2010 survey by national education nonprofit Project Tomorrow, “What are the key outcomes as a result of online learning?” administrators responded:

  1. Increase student engagement
  2. Increase graduation rates
  3. Increase personalization
  4. Fill hard-to-staff courses

And as you will see from the case studies below, schools throughout the South are taking on some of their most difficult student performance challenges with online programs.

John Olsen is Executive Vice President of Operations for K12 Inc. He is responsible for K12Institutional Products and Services, which provides online curriculum, programs and services for more than 2,000 school districts in all 50 states. Over the past decade, K12 has delivered over 4 million online courses from its extensive portfolio, including full-time virtual schooling, credit recovery, core courses, world languages, AP and high school electives. For case studies on schools and districts implementing online learning, visit
Comments & Ratings

  10/24/2012 9:46:54 AM

Abuse of system 
Like any program it can be abused. What you need to be asking is where are the PARENTS? There are students that no matter what they do the children still misbehave and don't do their schooll work. But, for a program to be abused the way you are talking about is for parents to become nonexistant in their childs education. This is what we should be asking, Where are the parents? They are supposed to be the monitors.
  5/2/2012 5:11:56 AM
Vicky Wells 

The Credit Recovery Program can be a wonderful tool to help at-risk students "catch up" or stay on course to graduate. However, the program is being abused in many, many cases. Students are allowed to have unexcused excessive absenteeism and to do absolutely nothing during the year and make up an entire semester or a year of credit in a couple of weeks during the summer. This happens year after year after year. This way it looks great for our graduation and drop out rates. The only way a child does not graduate is to absolutely not come to school at all. And, in some cases, these students can come in and make up all the courses via credit recovery and still graduate. But, what have these students learned? Nothing!!
There are no enforcers to make sure the program is being run by the rules. Where are the monitors???