Keeping Pace 2011: Taking Down Another Brick in the Wall, Part I

I must say that given any problem, I’d choose the smartest people from a variety of backgrounds, put them into a room, and turn them loose. With the release of Keeping Pace 2011, we have proof again that the Evergreen Group is to be respected for their collaboration and careful analysis of the online learning landscape. This year’s report exceeded my expectations, providing both data and honest recommendations that both advocates and partisans can not ignore. Their findings and my comments may be found below. Note that I have merged their analysis with my opinions, which are woven into and amongst their findings and recommendations. Such is the joy of a Creative Commons license.


  •  Single district programs are the fastest growing segment of online and blended learning. Growth within single district programs—run by one district for that district’s students—is outpacing all other segments.

This one is no surprise to me. After each online learning presentation the past year, I’ve been approached by administrators who have previously noticed the revolution, now realize that the tipping point is quick approaching, and desperately want to get into the game. My main worry, though, is that administrators will move too quickly. Online learning without a plan for implementation is not a recipe for success.

  •  Most district programs are blended, instead of fully online.
    • Districts are often serving their own students, who are local.

 Heather Staker’s and Michael Horn’s “Rise of K12 Blended Learning” is primer for six blended learning models that continue to evolve. That districts are opting for blended learning solutions instead of full-time, virtual, remote courses confirms their premise that 90% of all online learning will take place in a brick-and-mortar school.

  •  Intermediate units, county offices and other educational service agencies are taking on important roles. 
    • …forming consortia to help districts gain expertise and provide economies of scale.

This is true also in California where directors of curriculum and CTOs from the California County Superintendents Educational Service Association (CCSESA) collaborated with a variety of education partners and the Evergreen group to create an impressive eLearning Framework for California. The consortia is expanding its reach this fall by creating an online symposium of county office representatives to discuss and extend the framework.

  • Full-time, multi-district online schools continue to grow.
    • There are now 30 states with full-time, multi-district schools that enrolled an estimated total of 250,000 students in SY 2010-11, an annual increase of 25%.
    • State virtual schools can be divided into two tiers: those that matter and those who don’t.

This is the first sassy comment I’ve read in Keeping Pace, but it outlines that some states are in the game and others are just paying lip service.

  • Several states passed important new online learning laws, some of which cited the Ten Elements of Digital Learning created by Digital Learning Now.
    • Florida, Utah, Idaho, Ohio, and Wisconsin

And California, which wasn’t one of them, is firmly entrenched at 50th place on the Digital Learning Now scorecard. There is hope though. However, a new initiative being proposed in California, “The California Student Bill of Rights”, would promote many of the policies put forth by Digital Learning Now.

  • The Common Core State Standards are taking hold, common assessments are next, and open educational resources are an increasingly important element.

For the past year, CLRN has reviewed math and English-language arts supplementary resources and now online courses aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Approximately 80% of the resources submitted for review are aligned to the Common Core.

  • The provider landscape is changing rapidly.
    • Consolidations are affecting the market.

Remember when there were a dozen K-12 textbook publishers? Now you can count them on one hand and still have fingers left. While new online course providers are appearing, larger companies are gobbling up smaller competitors. In September, Pearson purchased Connections Academy, and Plato has just purchased Education Options, Inc.

  • Special student needs gain new focus.

These are just the teasers set out in the Executive Summary. It gets juicier inside. Next time, I’ll share my take on the four Keeping Pace themes.

One thought on “Keeping Pace 2011: Taking Down Another Brick in the Wall, Part I

  1. Brian, thanks for your review of and comments about Keeping Pace 2011.

    At times seeing one’s writing through another person’s eyes gives pause–as with your recounting of our description of state virtual school categories including “those that don’t matter.” Upon further review (can you tell I’ve been watching football?) I might have chosen those words a bit more carefully, to not denigrate the efforts of those state virtual schools. Our point is that many state virtual schools are serving such small numbers of students, especially relative to the state population, that they are having relatively little impact. Of course, the impact is important to those students who *are* being served, but state funding or other policies are keeping the school from helping significant numbers of students.

    Even those small state virtual schools often have smart and dedicated staff. They deserve our support in growing those programs, even as we are critical of state policies that keep them small. The distinction is important and perhaps we did not make that as clearly as we should have.

    I’m looking forward to reading your take on part 11!

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