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Florida Virtual School: A growing enterprise

The largest and oldest state-funded online school in the nation
falls outside many traditional measures of educational success.

Online learning's growth across the country

Across the nation online learning for K-12 is expanding at a rapid clip and is being offered in a myriad of ways — from cyberschools to blended learning that combines both online and face-to-face instruction — by state education agencies, districts, charter schools, consortiums and universities or colleges.

States with large virtual schools or online initiatives by enrollment

State virtual schools

  • State virtual schools or state-led online learning initiatives exist in 40 states.
  • State virtual schools had about 536,000 course enrollments in 2010-11.
  • 30 states plus Washington, D.C., have at least one full-time online school operating statewide.
  • About 250,000 students attend full-time online schools.

Online learning

  • Many virtual schools show annual growth rates between 20% and 45%.
  • 75% of school districts had one or more students enrolled in an online or blended learning course.
  • A total of 1.5 million K-12 students were enrolled in online learning courses in 2009.
  • In 2010, over 4 million K-12 students participated in a formal online learning program. This includes 217,000 students in cyber charter schools.
  • Online learning enrollments are growing by 46% a year and the growth rate is accelerating.
  • The PreK-12 Academic segment of the online learning industry is growing faster than any other segment, with a 16.8% annual growth rate.
  • Revenue for all segments of online learning is expected to reach $24.2 billion by 2015.
  • Research on virtual learning

    Here is a summary of a few of the studies looking at online learning and/or Florida Virtual School. For a complete understanding of the research, please refer to the studies themselves since the findings listed do not necessarily reflect all of the findings in the respective research.

    Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Thirteenth Annual Report - 2010-2011

    Author: Gary Miron and the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado
    Findings: The report found students in virtual schools run by private management companies have been less proficient on standardized tests than their traditional counterparts.
    Link: View the report

    Study on the Advisability of Expanding Part-time Virtual Options for Florida Students in Grades 9-12, Report to the Legislature

    Author: Florida Department of Education
    Findings: Online growth has outpaced the development of data systems to ensure good reporting and oversight. The state, therefore, should "allow for, and not require, expansion of part-time online opportunities only at the rate at which data systems are being developed to allow for reporting on course quality."
    Link: Download a PDF of the report

    Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation, 2011 (Policy brief)

    Authors: Gene V. Glass and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado at Boulder
    Findings: Existing studies fail to examine online schools' complete curriculum and don't look at student test performance over time. "Those making policy should be clear on this key point: there exists no evidence from research that full-time virtual schooling at the K-12 level is an adequate replacement for traditional face-to-face teaching and learning."
    Link: Download a PDF of the report

    Estimating the Effects of Online Learning for Secondary School Students: Students and district case studies (DRAFT), 2011

    Author: Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International
    Findings: Compared to place-based students, those who self-select into online courses were more likely to be white and less likely to qualify for the federal free- or reduced-price-lunch programs, be English language learners or have disabilities. Students in FLVS had the same odds of passing English I and Algebra I as their place-based peers and their FCAT scores were equal to or higher than place-based students' scores in those two subjects. But that difference was partly explained by the fact that more online students withdraw from the course after the first semester. More research is needed into how to support low-achieving students and underserved populations online.
    Link: Download a PDF of the report

    Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: State and district case studies, 2010

    Author: U.S. Department of Education
    Findings: Few rigorous studies exist, especially those looking at K-12 student performance. Findings that do exist into virtual learning indicate that online students performed modestly better on average than those in face-to-face classrooms, but that the best online model for student outcomes was one that combined face-to-face with online instruction — known as "blended learning."
    Link: Download a PDF of the report

    A Comprehensive Assessment of Florida Virtual School, 2007

    Author: Florida TaxWatch's Center for Educational Performance and Accountability
    Findings: FLVS students outperformed their statewide counterparts on two independent assessments — the FCAT during 2004-05 and 2005-06 and Advanced Placement tests. But a significant portion of their students also withdrew from their classes.
    Link: Download a PDF of the report

    Compiled by Rebecca Catalanello, Times staff writer

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