Statewide virtual schools a growing trend

Virtual schools are experiencing historic growth as states invest more in online education, even in a difficult economy. Twenty-seven states have established statewide virtual schools in an effort to increase educational opportunity for students, and together they saw 320,000 course enrollments in 2008-09 according to Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning, a report from the Evergreen Education Group.

Ten of these schools have partnered with Blackboard to support their online education programs.

The Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) has seen an average 50 percent annual growth working with Blackboard, increasing from 6,619 enrollments in 2008 to 14,500 this year. The academy saves the state nearly $4 million a year in teacher salaries, district costs for student remediation, and out-of-pocket costs families must pay for online classes from other providers, according to estimates from IDLA CEO Donna Hutchison.

“We don’t have the ability to offer the depth and breadth of course options that larger schools do,” said Benjamin Merrill, Principal at Notus High School in rural Notus, Idaho. “IDLA has opened the doors for students throughout the state to have the same opportunities to take classes they need to be successful, like foreign languages and advanced math. It really has leveled the playing field.”

North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS), another Blackboard partner, has expanded by more than 50 percent annually in recent years and now serves some 66,000 students, up from just 5,000 three years ago.

“Blackboard has executed on our needs for classic, blended, modular, and mobile virtual services,” said Dr. Bryan Setser, Executive Director of the NCVPS.

Virtual schools have brought greater choice and flexibility to students by providing access to advanced placement and dual credit opportunities that have helped some students graduate from high school early while preventing others from dropping out. As these options become more popular, new expectations for online courses and professional development opportunities are being set; research conducted by Project Tomorrow shows increased demand for online opportunities from students and teachers nationwide.

“Forward thinking states have realized that rather than having every district create their own online learning program, a statewide virtual school can accelerate the state’s goals much more effectively and for much less money,” said Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President of Blackboard K-12.