K-12 Online Education data show greatest growth in red states

I was looking for trends in the online education figures last compiled by the National Center of Education Statistics in November 2011 (Table 121 in the 2012 Digest of Education Statistics). The data we have count how many school districts offer online classes for K-12 students and how many online courses students are taking. There are only three years of data (2002-03, 2004-05 and 2009-10 academic years).

Source: NCES Digest of Education Statistics, Table 121

Source: NCES Digest of Education Statistics, Table 121

Not surprisingly, high schoolers are taking more online courses than elementary or middle school students. But in percentage terms, the greatest growth was in middle school, in which online enrollments grew more than 10 fold between 04 and 09.

But the geographic variations really popped out at me.

Source: NCES Digest of Education Statistics Table 121

Source: NCES Digest of Education Statistics Table 121

Why would the Northeast, the region of the country with the highest performing school systems, be turning its back on online courses? And why would the growth of online course taking be stronger in the Southeast and Midwest than the West Coast, where technology adoption is the strongest?

If you were to overlay a political map of the US onto this, you would see that red (Republican) states are more likely to be using online courses in K-12 education than blue (Democratic) states. One explanation is that teachers unions are stronger in blue states and are pushing back against the use of online courses in schools. Another explanation could be that education budgets are more constrained in red states. They’re more likely to seek out cheaper online courses than hire a teacher that can teach AP Physics.

I’m guessing that online courses will ultimately play a small role in traditional schools. But the use of software modules within a teacher-led classroom is likely to increase. Would love to see data tracking so-called “blended learning”.

POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON February 7, 2014

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