United States

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(Re.ViCa version by Sara Frank Bristow and Paul Bacsich.)

Put in merged template and updated for VISCED by Sara Frank Bristow.

For entities in the United States see Category:United_States


Experts situated in the United States

  • Cathy Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Educational Technology, School of Teaching and Learning, University of Florida at Gainesville
  • Sara Frank Bristow, Independent Researcher and Sero collaborator; contributor to Re.ViCa
  • Susan Patrick, International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)
  • Russ Poulin, WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies; contributor to Re.ViCa

United States in a nutshell

(sourced in part from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States and https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html)

The United States (United States of America; US, USA, or America) is a federal constitutional republic comprising 50 states and a federal district. The world's oldest surviving federation, the United States is a constitutional republic and representative democracy, in which citizens are subject to three levels of government: federal, state, and local.

The country is situated mostly in central North America between the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and with about 311 million people (July 2011), the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area (depending on definition), and third largest by land area and by population.

Wikimedia Commons Map of US states

The US comprises 50 discrete states; see the US States Wikipedia article for a full list. Washington D.C. (the District of Columbia), a special district which is not part of any US state, serves as the permanent national capital. The US also possesses five major overseas territories, all considered separately in this wiki. According to 2010 estimates, the largest contiguous state, California, has 37 million people; and the next, Texas, has 25 million. The seven states with 10 million people or more are: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Ten states have populations of less than 10 but more than 6 million. 33 states have populations under 6 million; of these, 13 have populations ranging from 1 to 3 million.

The list of states with their own Virtual Campus wiki entries resides at Category:States of the United States. Regional sub-categories have been created for states with a high incidence of notable e-learning programmes, e.g. California and Colorado. Others are added as activity is identified.

Education in the United States

Students are not compelled to study at nationally controlled or public schools in the United States, and from primary through post-secondary level, a broad range of private, for-profit options exist. In 2008, about 74 million people (both citizens and foreign nationals) were enrolled in American schools, colleges and universities.

Education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the US, with most decisions made (and policies established) on that basis. It is states and communities, as well as public and private organisations of various types, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrolment and graduation - not the federal (central) government.

The structure of education finance in America reflects this predominant state and local role. Of an estimated $1.13 trillion in government funds being spent nationwide on education at all levels for the school year 2010-2011, a substantial majority comes from state, local, and private sources. This is especially true at the elementary (primary) and secondary levels, where 89% of the funds will come from non-federal sources.

The Federal government contribution to primary and secondary education is only about 11%.

Schools in the United States

Children are required in most US states to attend school from the age of five or six until 16, 17 or 18 - generally bringing them through grade 12, or twelfth grade (the end of High School). This sequence is colloquially referred to as "K-12" education.

In all, 86% of American schoolchildren enroll in the "Public" (publicly funded) school system. About 12% are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian "Private" (non-publicly funded) schools, and 2% are homeschooled.

Public school curricula, funding, teaching, and other policies are set through locally elected school boards with jurisdiction over school districts, which may have many directives from state legislatures. School districts are usually separate from other local jurisdictions, with independent officials and budgets. Educational standards and standardised testing decisions are usually made by state governments, with curricula varying widely from district to district.

Individual states, counties, and school districts have considerable leeway in how they choose to divide their school levels, so it is difficult to accurately describe an "average" child's standard progression through education. However, all states have historically made a distinction between two main genres of K-12 education and three genres of K-12 school.

  • The genres of education are Primary and Secondary; and
  • The genres of school are Elementary School, Middle or Junior High School, and High School

Elementary and Secondary school programmes comprise nearly 14,000 school districts and some 56 million students, attending roughly 99,000 public schools and 34,000 private schools. It would impossible to list all US schools here; however, see the Wikipedia List of Schools in the United States for links itemised by state and school district.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 US states, although the topic is at times controversial (as parents are not always considered fit to provide schooling which meets compulsory education standards). Homeschooling standards and requirements also vary widely among US states. Common reasons for adoption of homeschooling strategies include dissatisfaction with the quality of schooling available; dissatisfaction with moral, ethical or religious issues associated with a school; and/or inability of a student to participate due to time, financial or physical restraints (e.g. in the case of child athletes, celebrities and the disabled).

The decision to homeschool a child in the US may be interpreted as a statement of social, religious, political or other dissent.


The terms "Preschool," "Prekindergarten," "Pre-K" or "Nursery School" may all be used to refer to earlier age-group education. There is no compulsory national Pre-Primary education requirement in the US.

Elementary (Primary)

American children are required to attend six or seven years of Elementary School (generally comprising Kindergarten and grades 1-5 or 1-6). Kindergarten is a transitional year for students around the age of 5 or 6. Not all states make this year compulsory, though many do and offer this as a free educational year. First grade is the more official "first year" of primary school.

Middle or Junior High School

Middle School is a period of schooling between Elementary and High School, viewed by many as a conceptual bridge between the two. It often shares resources with a larger Secondary School rather than occupy its own facilities. Middle School typically spans grades 6-8, while Junior High School (Junior High) spans grades 7 and 8 only. Middle School/Junior High School students are generally between 11 and 14 years old.

High School

The majority of American students complete four years of High School (grades 9-12), graduating with a diploma around the age of 18. A small percentage of students opt to withdraw prior to graduation, permitted at either 16 or 17 depending on state of residence. These students may take a series of standardised tests (General Educational Development, or GED) and receive High School equivalency credentials if they perform well.

In 2008, 87% of Americans over the age of 25 had graduated from High School. High School graduates may either enter the workforce or continue education, e.g. at a higher education institution.

Further and Higher Education

The American further and higher education systems, like the primary and secondary education systems, are largely decentralised - that is, unregulated by any national body. With a limited number of exceptions, the federal government does not directly regulate colleges and universities (although it may award them federal grants). It can therefore be difficult to make generalisations about the institutions in these sectors (without focusing on one individual US state at a time), though we have tried our best below.

The term "Polytechnic" is not used as such in the US, though "Community Colleges" may be seen to occupy a similar educational niche - and are not unlike what some in other countries might call "University Colleges."

Universities (and "Colleges") in the United States

The US higher education system is known to host some of the finest universities in the world. According to the Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, more than 30 of the highest-ranked 45 institutions are in the United States (as measured primarily by awards and research output).

In discussing post-secondary education in the US it is important to bear in mind that the definition of the term "college" does not align neatly with that used in most other countries discussed in this wiki.

  • Universities are, generally speaking, four-year institutions of higher education and research, awarding both undergraduate and postgraduate ("graduate") degrees.
  • Colleges are four-year, undergraduate institutions with an emphasis on taught courses, which may award the same undergraduate degrees as universities. Colleges may be part of a larger research university or may exist independently.

Americans do not always distinguish verbally between "college" and "university" – those attending a university would refer to this process as "going to college" while in pursuit of their undergraduate degree.

It is difficult to identify the precise number of colleges and universities in the United States - in part because of varying definitions of the terms, and in part because of the diversity of potentially applicable institutions. Moreover, a US university need not be "accredited" in order to operate (see separate note on this topic). With these caveats in mind, a recent estimate by the University of Texas at Austin counts 2,043 colleges and universities; the US Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs counts over 8,000 (community and vocational colleges are omitted in the first survey but included in the second); and the Chronicle of Higher Education 2009 Almanac of Higher Education counts 4,811.

Students provide transcripts of their High School grades and their results on a series of privately organised standardised tests when applying to American universities and colleges. Annual tuition fees are charged for higher education in almost all cases, and are often exorbitant compared to those found in other countries. (For the 2007–08 academic year, annual prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $11,578 at public institutions and $29,915 at private institutions.) Many students rely on student loans and scholarships from their university, the federal government, or a private lender.

Students may choose to attend public or private institutions to complete their undergraduate degrees. The majority of public universities are operated by individual states and territories, usually as part of a "state university system". Each state supports at least one state university and several support many more. By a wide margin, these "state schools" tend to be the most affordable to residents from within that state.

Those individuals completing undergraduate education at either a university or college may enter the workforce in a professional capacity or continue on to postgraduate ("graduate") study. In 2008, 29% of American adults 25 and older had a bachelor's degree.

(Community) Colleges in the United States

US "Community Colleges" are two-year institutions of higher education (once commonly called "Junior Colleges"). Often state-based and public, most Community Colleges operate under a policy of open admission and may be similar to the Polytechnics or University Colleges found in other countries.

Many Community Colleges are operated either by special districts that draw property tax revenue from the local community, as a division of a state university, or as sister institutions within a state-wide higher education system. In recent years, many Community Colleges have added online courses to their catalogues, and in some states have become hotbeds of e-learning activity.

Community Colleges typically offer two-year "associates degrees" and/or trade certifications, as well as services to the local community (e.g. a library or job placement assistance). Some offer courses towards a four-year bachelor's degree and may guarantee admission to a partner university. While most enrollees proceed directly from High School to Community College (and are therefore ages 18-21), Community College is also an attractive venue for older American adults returning to education after a hiatus; professionals seeking further certification in their field (or another); or hobbyists looking for an inexpensive way to further their personal interests.

US Community Colleges should not be confused with regular "Colleges", as the latter term is used uniquely in the US to refer to four-year teaching institutions which offer bachelor's degrees (see above). There are, however, other two-year institutions which would be referred to as "Community Colleges" even though they are not described as such by name; these have names like "institute of technology", "technical institute" or "technical college" and typically focus on training in technical and vocational skills.

Education Reform

A selection of "hot button" issues targeted in the budget for Fiscal Year 2012 reflect the general tenor of US educational reforms debated in the last five to ten years. These include:

  • College access and completion
  • Investing in early learning
  • Accelerating the use of educational technology
  • Supporting English language learners
  • Supporting individuals with disabilities
  • Strengthening the commitment to Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Education
  • Improving productivity and efficiency
  • Supporting rural education
  • Improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education

Sector specifics are discussed below.


Approaches to improving public schooling have been the primary stakeholder concern ever since universal public education began to gain traction in US schools, in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Department of Education's official mission is to "promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access", and reforms over the last 60 years have included issues of civil rights, "progressive" education versus "cultural literacy", and the 1990s adoption of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) - at which time a set of standards-based National Education Goals were set by the US Congress. The standards-based reform movement culminated in the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

As of August 2011, issues frequently highlighted for potential reform include Repairing the Bush-era "No Child Left Behind" Act; Reauthorisation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); Addressing teacher cheating scandals in standardised testing; Teacher union reform; Expanding school day or school year; Validity of charter schools (in which public schools operate more like private ones); Validity of school choice, or "school vouchers" (in which parents may select which public school their child attends, or use a voucher to send them to a private one); Improving teacher quality/salary; Improving teacher training; Awarding performance bonuses ("merit pay") to teachers; English-only vs. bilingual education (allowing students to study in their native tongue - typically Spanish); Mainstreaming special education students (allowing special needs individuals to remain in "regular" schools); Content of curriculum standards and textbooks (which intersects with controversial issues like the teaching of creationism in the classroom); and others.

For more information see the collected pieces on on "P-12" (pre-Kindergarten through twelfth grade) Reform on the ED web site at http://www.ed.gov/p-12-reform; or the useful Wikipedia discussion at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_reform.


Given the decentralised nature of the US HE system, federal reform might never reflect the kind of sweeping mandates periodically effected in other countries or unions. Nevertheless, certain proposed and actual reforms - largely addressing issues of affordability and access - pressed through or discussed from 2008-2011 are of great interest. Not all are exclusively higher-education specific. Some are detailed here:

  • Announcement regarding online courses for Community Colleges (September 2011). The long-awaited first installation of a $2 billion grant programme targeting Community College students through both industry partnerships and an expansion of free online courses. An initial $500 million in "workforce training programme" grants were scheduled for distribution after a rigorous application process that lasted almost a year. This followed on an announcement by President Obama in July 2009 to devote $12 billion over 10 years to improve programmes, courses, and facilities at US Community Colleges, with $500 million devoted to freely available online courses. Portions of this pledge were realised in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
  • The National Broadband Plan (March 2010). Relevant in its potential to transform education in the US, as noted in the report itself. Despite early advances in the arena, for nearly 10 years the United States has lagged behind many other developed countries in the adoption of broadband technology. America's first National Broadband Plan recommends sweeping improvements to US broadband governance, infrastructure, affordability, and deployment, dedicating $15.5 billion to broadband deployment over the next decade.
  • The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. Goals included "producing the most college graduates by 2020 by making college accessible and transforming the way our student loan programs operate." The bill never became law; link now defunct.

Read more about current issues in the realm of US Higher Education reform at the Teachnology, Inc. web site: http://www.teach-nology.com/highered/reform/

The Bologna Process

This section was included as relevant to Re.ViCa and has not been updated since first posting.

The average American academic remains unaware of the Bologna Process and its significance. Yet a recent report by the US-based Lumina Foundation chides:

Former Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education paid no attention whatsoever to Bologna, and neither did the U.S. higher education community… Such purblind stances are unforgivable in a world without borders.

This report's author, Cliff Adelman (Institute for Higher Education Policy), is among numerous vocal proponents of US participation in a process similar to that set forth by Bologna. Lumina promotes "Tuning", explored in papers such as The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction - which set forth the goal that attainment of high-quality undergraduate degrees and credentials in the United States should increase to 60% by 2025.

Adelman's efforts and those of others like him are not widely known. Bologna's spirit of harmonisation, unity and "work towards a common cause" is not often felt across US state borders, and there are few models of cross-border cooperation that scratch the surface of Bologna Process-like goals.

As a separate issue, some European researchers have explored evidence of US hostility towards the Bologna Process itself, in terms of its perceived success in attracting overseas students who might otherwise pursue studies in the US. As an increasing number of "geographically mobile" students choose European universities over American ones, some believe that Bologna is a seen as a threat – yet one that US officials have been unwilling to acknowledge or name. For one example of this research track, see Charlier and Croche's 2008 piece on The Outcome of Competition Between Europe and the United States.

Administration and finance

(adapted from the US Department of Education web site, http://www2.ed.gov)

2011 US Department of Education

Established in 1980, the US Department of Education (ED, or externally USDE) is the government agency that establishes policy for and administers most federal assistance to all sectors of US education. ED has 4,200 employees and a $63.7 billion budget; elementary and secondary programmes serve more than 14,000 school districts and 56 million students, who attend some 97,000 schools and 28,000 private schools. Department programmes also provide financial assistance to about 11 million post-secondary students. Many students attend private schools, colleges and universities, paid for with private funds.

It is always important to bear in mind the predominant state and local role in establishing American schools and colleges, developing curricula, and determining enrolment and graduation requirements. These tasks are not, for the most part, under the purview of ED - in other words, there are few national requirements in these areas. Of an estimated $1.13 trillion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2010-2011, a substantial majority (89%) come from state, local, and private sources.

The US Department of Education (i.e. US federal government) does:

  • Establish policies relating to federal financial aid for education, and administer/monitor those funds at all levels.
  • Collect data, oversee schools research, and disseminate results to the US Congress, educators and the general public.
  • Identify major issues, focus national attention on them, and make recommendations for education reform (advising the president and implementing education policies).
  • Enforce federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in programmes receiving federal funds, and ensure equal access to education.

The US Department of Education (i.e. US federal government) does not:

  • Establish schools and colleges
  • Develop curricula
  • Set requirements for enrollment and graduation
  • Determine state education standards
  • Develop or implement testing to measure whether states are meeting their own education standards

Notably for VISCED and Re.ViCa purposes, the Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology (OET) develops national educational technology policy, ensuring that programmes are coordinated and consistent across the federal government. OET released the US's first National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) in March 2010 as described above.


The Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) directs, coordinates, and recommends policies for state and local educational agencies, helps ensure equal access to services (particularly for underprivileged and underrepresented children), and provides financial assistance to a select number of local educational agencies.

OESE offers nearly 200 programmes, addressing a range of issues such as: Hurricane Help for Schools, Academic Improvement and Teacher Quality Programs, School Support and Technology Programs, Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs, and many more. Programmes are administered through numerous offices, e.g. the Office of Indian [Native American] Education and the Office of Migrant Education. (Note that this is only a fragment of a much longer list, and that programmes are not guaranteed funding on an annual basis.)


Federal regulation is critical in the area of student financial aid (which provides loans to students for post-secondary tuition).

The Office of the Under Secretary (OUS) oversees policies, programmes, and activities related to post-secondary education, vocational and adult education, and federal student aid.

The Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) formulates federal post-secondary education policy and administers over 40 programmes to increase access to quality post-secondary education. One of the OPE's primary programmes of relevance is the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). FIPSE's main activity each year is conducting the Comprehensive Program, a grant programme intended to support innovative, replicable post-secondary education improvement projects. FIPSE also administers international consortia programmes, co-funded by foreign government partners, such as the European Union-United States Atlantis Program which provides funding for joint or dual undergraduate degrees in a wide range of academic and professional disciplines.

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) administers and coordinates programmes related to adult education and literacy, career and technical education, and Community Colleges.

The Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) provides critical financial assistance to students enrolled in post-secondary educational institutions. Students apply to this agency for aid, and repay loans to it directly; institutions demonstrating inferior quality may become ineligible to educate students receiving federal student loans.

Quality assurance

As described by the Department of Education's US Network for Education Information (USNEI), quality assurance takes several forms in the US system. The approval of institutions and programmes is generally undertaken by state agencies and accrediting agencies, with the latter also responsible for establishing and maintaining academic and administrative standards. Professional and academic disciplinary associations also play a role in influencing and assessing quality. Educational potential and outcomes are measured by a wide range of surveys, studies, tests, and other assessments at the national, regional, state and institutional levels.

Various documents outlining assessment, evaluation, and standards activities in US education at all levels can be reviewed at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/edlite-structure-us.html. The site also offers overviews of associates, bachelor's, and postgraduate degrees.

See also these general USNEI reports for further information:


The US Department of Education does not have the authority to accredit private or public elementary or secondary schools; nor does it recognise schools-level accrediting bodies.

The US does not use national examinations to determine graduation from school or access to further studies, and there is no national curriculum on which to base such examinations. School curricula are set by local school districts, private schools, and homeschooling parents with reference to state standards and post-secondary requirements.

However, there is considerable commonality across the US education system despite the absence of legally enforced national curricula or examinations. Common evaluation and assessment standards and tools are the result of the pressures of the competitive academic marketplace, the expectations and requirements of employers and state agencies, and the standards required by accrediting agencies and professional and research associations.

For further information, USENEI provides these relevant schools report:


As in other US educational sectors, Quality Assurance in higher education is not typically overseen at the national level. Post-secondary or tertiary curricula are determined by individual institutions with reference to accreditation requirements, professional requirements, and the expectations of postgraduate programmes and employers.

It is difficult to summarise in brief the uniqueness and complexity of the academic accreditation process in the US.

  • There is no single governmental accrediting body for US post-secondary educational institutions. Rather, ED relies on 74 private and state-based accrediting agencies to provide oversight of member institutions.
  • These agencies are divided into 16 "regional" accrediting agencies (regarded as the most selective), plus a number of "national," "hybrid" and "programmatic" agencies which may certify lesser-known and/or specialised entities.
  • Agencies awarded recognised by the Department of Education are not the only ones permitted to provide university accreditation; they have simply met a certain set of ED criteria. Recognition is not a requirement for an accrediting body to operate legally - although without it, institutions it certifies cannot participate in federal student aid programmes.
  • Non-accredited institutions are often perceived as lacking in quality and rigor, and may be termed "diploma mills".

Within ED, the Accreditation and State Liaison (ASL) has responsibility for the accrediting agency recognition process and for coordinating activities between states and ED that impact institutional participation in the federal financial assistance programmes. A National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity provides recommendations to the Secretary of Education regarding the recognition of post-secondary accrediting agencies.

For those seeking further information, USNEI provides these post-secondary reports:

Information society

Details about certain legislation, agencies and initiatives have been covered in previous sections.

After an initial period of sustained leadership in the areas of computer science, internet development and broadband uptake, the US is now widely considered to be stagnating in technology uptake and usage. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF)'s 2011 report, the US finished fifth in a survey of the 138 countries that make up 98.8 percent of the world's GDP (ranking 24th in percentage of households with a personal computer). The WEF measured aspects of technology usage including business and regulatory climates for IT development and interest in and use of technology by the government, individuals and businesses.

The US also faces a significant gap in residential broadband use that breaks down along race, income, education levels and other socio-economic factors.

Recent Pew findings report that 77% of American adults use the internet (Dec 2010); 83% of Americans own mobile phones, while just 57% own a personal computer (May 2011).

A variety of offices, agencies and non-profits monitor and direct US activity and strategy in the information society.

  • The Federal Communications Commission, an independent US government agency, regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. (As noted above, it has unveiled the first US National Broadband Plan in March 2010, reinforcing the notion that all Americans are entitled to "affordable access to robust and reliable broadband products and services".)
  • The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology (OET) supports the use of technology in education. (The March 2010 "National Education Technology Plan" has been discussed above.)
  • The Office of E-Government & Information Technology is part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
  • Founded in 1969, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) represents state chief information officers and information technology executives and managers from the states, territories, and the District of Columbia. The primary state members are senior officials from state government who have executive-level and statewide responsibility for information technology leadership.
  • The Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council serves as the principal interagency forum for improving practices in the design, modernisation, use, sharing, and performance of Federal Government agency information resources.
  • The IT Dashboard, launched in June 2009, allows the American people to monitor IT investments across the federal government.

This is not a comprehensive list - and in particular does not identify any state or regional programmes. See http://www.usa.gov/Government/State_Local/Technology.shtml for more related agencies/organisations.

ICT in education initiatives

Virtual initiatives in schools

Online education in the US has gained considerable traction over the last 15 years - seemingly more so than in any other country. A major report from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning (Second Edition), estimates that over 1.5 million American K-12 students were engaged in online and blended learning for the 2009-2010 school year (out of approximately 55.2 million students enrolled ).This represents roughly 3% of the US K-12 population.

This relatively small figure belies the scope and nature of the programmes now available. Options vary from state to state, school district to school district, and even from school to school. As the Primer notes, whether a student has the option to participate in "supplemental" (i.e. single) courses or full-time online programmes remains a matter of state policy and local laws, "with a few states providing opportunities for most students, a few states providing almost no opportunities, and most states falling somewhere in the middle". Moreover, iNACOL and others acknowledge their ongoing struggle to survey data in this relatively new and rapidly changing arena; there is no single authority to whom any of the schools listed in this survey must report, and relevant data is not always made available to the public.

As of 2010, supplemental or full-time online learning opportunities were available to students in 48 of the 50 US states. 38 states had state virtual schools or state-led online initiatives (with a 39th set to open in 2011); 27 states plus Washington, DC had full-time online schools serving students statewide; and 20 states were providing both supplemental and full-time online learning options statewide (but not as part of a state virtual school). This can be compared to 2001, during which approximately 10 states had state virtual schools and even fewer offered other online education options. The three main types of US virtual school are summarised in brief below, as outlined in Keeping Pace With Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice, Evergreen Education Group (2010). Note that not all schools fit neatly into one of the slots below, but without this kind of rough categorisation it would be exceedingly difficult to approach the vast array of US virtual schools.

An excellent pictorial summary of the current position in each US state is provided annually by the iNACOL 'Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning' Reports mentioned above.

Click here for the VISCED typology of US virtual schools.

Click here for the full VISCED list of Virtual schools in the US.

US state virtual schools - overview

  • Operate in 38 states
  • Are state-led online learning initiatives, with course enrollment ranging from several thousand to 16,000 for 2009-10
  • Boast 450,000 "course enrollments" nationwide, i.e. in which one student takes one course
  • Often provide local school districts with supplemental online courses, as well as online learning expertise and thought leadership for their own schools
  • Have students who study online part-time only (taking "supplemental" online courses while physically enrolled elsewhere)
  • Saw enrollment increase by nearly 40% from 2008-09 to 2009-10, though most gains came from the states of North Carolina and Florida only
  • Have virtual school enrollments exceeding 10,000 for 2009-10 in eight different states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and South Carolina)
  • Are usually funded by legislative appropriation

Click here for the VISCED list of US statewide virtual schools - this includes both "state virtual schools" as described above, and any virtual school for which state residents are eligible.

US multi-school-district full-time online schools - overview

  • Operate in 27 states (each has at least one)
  • Have few or no part-time students; most have enrollment of a few hundred to several thousand
  • Usually attract students from across an entire state, so are found in those states that permit students to enroll across district lines
  • Are typically charter schools (i.e. special publicly funded schools operating under their own charters/standards, attended by student choice)
  • Are usually affiliated with a private national organisation e.g. Connections Academy, K12 Inc., Advanced Academics, or Insight Schools
  • Are often funded via state public education funds that follow the student

Click here for the VISCED list of US multi-school-district virtual schools.

Click here for the VISCED list of US charter schools.

US single school district programmes - overview

  • Are represented by only 11 well-established programmes nationwide
  • Serve only students who reside within a single, local district of residence
  • Serve mostly supplemental students (though some serve full-time students)
  • Are often focused on credit recovery or at-risk students
  • Make up the fastest growing segment of K-12 online learning

There are additionally a number of virtual schools run by consortia or postsecondary institutions, i.e. some which are not state, multi-district or single district schools.

Click here for the VISCED list of US single-school-district virtual schools.

Possible US Exemplars

Towards a Comprehensive List of US Virtual Schools (in progress)

All schools identified as "notable" in the early phases of VISCED are included below. The list is representative but not comprehensive, given the nature of the US. Virtual schools for the under-14s are deemed out of scope.

  1. 21st Century Cyber Charter School (Pennsylvania)
  2. Academy Online High School (Colorado)
  3. ACE Digital Academy (Ohio)
  4. ACHIEVEk12 (Colorado)
  5. Achievement House Cyber Charter School (Pennsylvania)
  6. Advanced Academics Online School (Oklahoma)
  7. AGVI Academy for Gifted Youth (California)
  8. Agave Distance Learning (Arizona)
  9. Agora Cyber Charter School (Pennsylvania)
  10. Akron Digital Academy (Ohio)
  11. Alabama ACCESS Distance Learning (State Virtual School)
  12. Alaska Virtual School
  13. Alaska's Learning Network
  14. Andover eCademy (Kansas)
  15. Anoka Hennepin Compass On-Line (Minnesota)
  16. Another Choice Virtual Charter School (Idaho)
  17. Apex Learning High School
  18. Appleton eSchool (Wisconsin)
  19. APS Online (Colorado)
  20. Arizona Connections Academy
  21. Arizona Online Instruction
  22. Arizona Virtual Academy
  23. Arizona Virtual School
  24. Arkansas Virtual High School
  25. ASPIRA Bilingual Cyber Cyber School (Pennsylvania)
  26. AZ2020 Online Academy (Arizona)
  27. Basehor-Linwood Virtual School (Kansas)
  28. Beacon Academy of Nevada
  29. Bethel Online Academy (Washington)
  30. Blue Sky Online Charter School (Minnesota)
  31. Blueprint High School (Arizona)
  32. Boulder Universal (Colorado)
  33. Branson School Online (Colorado)
  34. Brigham Young University Independent Study (Utah)
  35. Buckeye On-Line School for Success (Ohio)
  36. California Pacific Charter Schools (California)
  37. California Virtual Academies
  38. Canon Online Academy (Colorado)
  39. Capistrano Connections Academy (CapoCA) (California)
  40. Cardington-Lincoln Local Digital Academy (Ohio)
  41. Chesterfield County Public Schools Online (Virginia)
  42. Central California Connections Academy (California)
  43. Central Pennsylvania Digital Learning Foundation (Pennsylvania)
  44. Chester Area Cyber School (South Dakota)
  45. Chicago Virtual Charter School (Illinois)
  46. Christa McAuliffe Academy (Oregon)
  47. Cincinnati Virtual High School (Ohio)
  48. City of Angels Virtual Academy
  49. CCSD Virtual High School (Nevada)
  50. CK Online Academy (Washington)
  51. Cobb Virtual Academy (Georgia)
  52. Colorado Connections Academy
  53. Colorado Distance and Electronic Learning Academy (CDELA)
  54. Colorado Online Learning
  55. Colorado Cyber
  56. Colorado Virtual Academy
  57. Columbia Virtual Academy (Washington)
  58. Commonwealth Connections Academy (Pennsylvania)
  59. Connecticut Virtual Learning Center
  60. Continental Academy (Florida)
  61. Cook County Sheriff’s Department Virtual High School
  62. Delta Academy On Line School (Nevada)
  63. Delta Cyber School (Alaska)
  64. DoDEA Virtual High School
  65. Denver Online High School (Colorado) (formerly DPS Online High School)
  66. Dunlap Leadership Academy (California)
  67. Duval Virtual Instruction Academy (Florida)
  68. eCADEMY (New Mexico)
  69. Education Program for Gifted Youth Online High School, Stanford University (California)
  70. ELCA Online Learning Academy (Georgia)
  71. EdVisions Online High School (Minnesota)
  72. EV Online Learning (Washington)
  73. Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (Ohio)
  74. Electronic Course Program (Texas)
  75. Evanston Virtual High School (Wyoming)
  76. Excel High School (Minnesota)
  77. Fairbanks B.E.S.T. Program (Alaska)
  78. Fairborn Digital Academy (Ohio)
  79. Falcon Virtual Academy (Colorado)
  80. Findlay Digital Academy (Ohio)
  81. Florida Virtual School
  82. Francis School (New York)
  83. Franklin University PSEOP (Ohio)
  84. Freshwater Education District Virtual School Consortium (Minnesota)
  85. Georgia Cyber Academy
  86. Georgia Virtual School
  87. Giant Campus of Washington (Washington)
  88. Giant Campus Academy
  89. GLBTQ Online High School (Minnesota)
  90. GOAL Digital Academy (Ohio)
  91. GOAL Academy Online (Colorado)
  92. Graham Digital Academy (Ohio)
  93. Greater Ohio Virtual School
  94. Greenways Academy
  95. Gwinnett Online Campus (Georgia)
  96. Hamilton County Virtual School (Tennessee)
  97. Hawaii DOE E-School
  98. Hawaii Technology Academy
  99. Hawaii Virtual Learning Network
  100. Hawaii Virtual School
  101. Hoosier Academies (Indiana)
  102. Hope High School Online (Arizona)
  103. Hope Online Learning Academy (Colorado)
  104. Idaho Connects Online
  105. Idaho Digital Learning Academy
  106. Idaho Distance Education Academy
  107. Idaho Virtual Academy
  108. IDEAL-NM (New Mexico)
  109. Independent Study High School (Nebraska)
  110. Illinois Virtual High School
  111. Indiana Connections Academy
  112. Insight School of Colorado
  113. Insight School of Kansas
  114. Insight School of Minnesota
  115. Insight School of Washington
  116. Insight School of Wisconsin
  117. INSPIRE Connections Academy (Idaho)
  118. International Virtual Learning Academy (California)
  119. Internet Academy (IA) (Washington)
  120. Iowa Learning Online
  121. Iowa Online AP Academy
  122. iQ Academy Arizona
  123. iQ Academy Kansas
  124. iQ Academy Minnesota
  125. iQ Academy Washington
  126. iQ Academy Wisconsin
  127. iSucceed Virtual High School (Idaho)
  128. Jackson Hole Connections Academy (Wyoming)
  129. Janesville Virtual Academy (Wisconsin)
  130. JEDI Virtual High School (Wisconsin)
  131. Jeffco's 21st Century Virtual Academy (Colorado)
  132. Jefferson County JCPSeSchool
  133. Kansas Connections Academy
  134. Kaplan Academy of California
  135. Kaplan Academy of Oregon
  136. Kaplan Academy of Washington
  137. Kaplan University High School
  138. Karval Online Education (Colorado)
  139. Kenosha eSchool (Wisconsin)
  140. Kent Digital Academy (Ohio)
  141. Kentucky Virtual Schools
  142. Keystone Online School
  143. Kiel eSchool (Wisconsin)
  144. Lakewood Digital Academy (Ohio)
  145. Lancaster Digital Academy (Ohio)
  146. Learn at My Pace (LAMP) Online High School (Minnesota)
  147. Learning² eSchool of Wichita (Kansas)
  148. Louisiana Virtual School
  149. Mahoning Unlimited Classroom (Ohio)
  150. Maryland Virtual School
  151. Massachusetts Online Network for Education (MassONE)
  152. Massillon Digital Academy (Ohio)
  153. Mercury Online Academy of Arizona
  154. Mercury Online Prep
  155. Mercury Academy of Southern California
  156. Meridian Parent Partnership Program (MP3) (Washington)
  157. Mesa Distance Learning Program
  158. Miami Dade I-Prep Academy (Florida)
  159. Miami-Dade Online Academy (Florida)
  160. Michigan Virtual School
  161. Midwestern Regional Virtual Charter School (Pennsylvania)
  162. Minnesota Online High School
  163. Minnesota Transitions Schools Minnesota Connections Academy
  164. Minnesota Virtual Academy
  165. Minnesota Virtual High School
  166. Mississippi Virtual Public School
  167. Missouri Virtual Instruction Program
  168. Monroe Virtual High School (Wisconsin)
  169. Monroe Virtual Middle School (Wisconsin)
  170. Montana Digital Academy
  171. Monte Vista Online Academy (Colorado)
  172. Move Up Program (Washington)
  173. MPS Online (Minnesota)
  174. National Connections Academy
  175. National University Virtual High School (California)
  176. Nevada Connections Academy
  177. Nevada Virtual Academy
  178. New Jersey Virtual School
  179. Newark Digital Academy (Ohio)
  180. NCSSM Online (North Carolina)
  181. North Carolina Virtual Public School
  182. North Dakota Center for Distance Education
  183. Northeast Wisconsin Online Network (Wisconsin)
  184. Northwest Allprep (Washington)
  185. Odyssey High School (Nevada)
  186. Ohio Connections Academy
  187. Ohio Distance And Electronic Learning Academy
  188. Ohio Virtual Academy
  189. Oklahoma Virtual Academy
  190. Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy
  191. Oklahoma Virtual High School
  192. Oklahoma Virtual School
  193. Olympia Regional Learning Academy iConnect (Washington)
  194. Omaha Public Schools eLearning
  195. Open High School of Utah
  196. Oregon Connections Academy
  197. Oregon Virtual Academy
  198. Oregon Virtual Education
  199. PA Distance Learning Charter School (Pennsylvania)
  200. PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School (Pennsylvania)
  201. Pacific View Charter School
  202. Palmetto State E-cademy (South Carolina)
  203. Park City Independent (Utah)
  204. Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
  205. Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School
  206. Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School
  207. Pinnacle Online High School (Arizona)
  208. Primavera Online High School (Arizona)
  209. Provo eSchool (Utah)
  210. Provost Academy South Carolina
  211. Provost Academy Colorado
  212. Quaker Digital Academy (Ohio)
  213. Red Comet (Washington)
  214. Richard McKenna Charter High School (Idaho)
  215. Riverside Virtual School (California)
  216. Scholars Online (Washington)
  217. Silver State High School (Nevada)
  218. Sioux Falls School District (South Dakota)
  219. Slavic Christian Academy (Washington)
  220. South Carolina Connections Academy
  221. South Carolina Virtual Charter School
  222. South Carolina Virtual School Program
  223. South Carolina Whitmore School
  224. South Dakota Virtual School
  225. Southwest Licking Digital Academy (Ohio)
  226. Spokane Virtual Learning (Washington)
  227. Spring Lake Park Online (SLP Online) (Minnesota)
  228. St. Johns Virtual School (Florida)
  229. SusQ-Cyber Charter School (Pennsylvania)
  230. Texas Connections Academy @ Houston
  231. Texas Virtual Academy
  232. Texas Virtual School
  233. Tempe Union Online Learning (TUOL) (Arizona)
  234. The American Academy
  235. Treca Digital Academy
  236. TRIO Wolf Creek Online High School (Minnesota)
  237. University of California College Prep (California)
  238. University of Missouri High School
  239. University of Oklahoma High School
  240. Utah Electronic High School (EHS)
  241. Utah Tech High
  242. Utah Virtual Academy
  243. Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative
  244. Vilas Online (Colorado)
  245. Virtual Community School Of Ohio
  246. Virtual High School Global Consortium (VHS)
  247. Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (New Hampshire)
  248. Virtual Virginia
  249. VOISE Academy High School (Illinois)
  250. Washington Online School Network
  251. Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) (Washington)
  252. WOLF School (Nevada)
  253. West Central Learning Academy II (Ohio)
  254. West Virginia Virtual School
  255. Westwood Cyber High (Michigan)
  256. WiloStar3D-Epic Academy (Oklahoma)
  257. Wisconsin Connections Academy
  258. Wisconsin eSchool Network
  259. Wisconsin Virtual Academy
  260. Wisconsin Virtual Learning
  261. Wisconsin Virtual School
  262. Wyoming e-academy of Virtual Education (WeAVE)
  263. Wyoming Switchboard Network
  264. Wyoming Virtual Academy

See also the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_virtual_schools#United_States.

Virtual initiatives in post-secondary education

According to the Sloan Consortium's 2010 report on Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in the autumn of 2009. Other findings include:

  • Almost two-thirds of for-profit institutions say that online learning is a critical part of their long term strategy
  • The 21% growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population
  • Nearly one-half of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for face-to-face courses and programmes
  • Three-quarters of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for online courses and programmes

There are no university-focused relevant federal initiatives of note. However, in July 2009 president Barrack Obama pledged to devote $12 billion over 10 years to improve programmes, courses, and facilities at US Community Colleges, with "$500 million devoted to freely available online courses". This pledge has evolved over time and is covered in more detail above under "Education Reform".

Despite the lack of national motivation, the simple scope and diversity of virtual university activity in the US cannot be underestimated. Most US universities offer at least one hybrid or fully online programme. Many institutions offer a wide range of programmes, at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Many of the "notables" are operated by for-profit, private companies, although a variety of initiatives originating in "traditional" universities were examined under Re.ViCa as well. Some major institutions/initiatives include:

There are many more. See the US category for a full list of those programmes indexed by the Re.ViCa wiki.

Lessons learnt

General lessons

The US is an unusually structured nation of 50 federated states, to which it is not always easy to compare other countries - especially those located in Europe (as they are more likely to see broad-ranging, national initiatives in education). Some of the associated issues are explored below (text prepared for Re.ViCa).

Note also that the apparent success of e-learning/online higher education in the US must be approached with care - quality may vary widely from institution to institution (and programme to programme). See note above on the complexity of US accreditation and quality control mechanisms.

Is the relevance of the US or of its states?

Text prepared for Re.ViCa and moved from an earlier section.

Hovering around 308.6 million as of early 2010, the population of the USA seems enormously large compared with that of most European countries. (For comparison, the population of the UK is estimated at 62 million, the Netherlands at 16.6 million, and Finland at 5.3 million.) Nevertheless, the federal structure of the US and the deregulated nature of its educational systems indicate that it is reasonable to look to the state level when studying e-learning in the US.

This "relevance" depends primarily on comparing US states to discrete European ones - it is extremely difficult to compare and contrast the US and Europe as a whole (in e-learning or otherwise).

The population of the EU is now estimated at over 500 million, about 1.5 times that of the US, and its inhabitants speak over 170 languages (of which 23 are considered "official"). While the US itself has no "official" language, nearly all Americans speak English, and moreover share essentially similar cultural expectations. This (in conjunction with the US's underlying federal governance structure) often results in a velocity of propagation of ideas nationwide which is rarely replicated across the EU.

Post-secondary: Do US ideas in e-learning transfer to Europe?

Text prepared for Re.ViCa and moved from an earlier section.

Many European analysts consider US universities - both large and small, public and private - more successful at developing and implementing substantial e-learning programmes than their European counterparts. Online learning in the US is indeed expanding at a remarkable and enviable pace: the average growth rate for online university enrolments has increased by roughly 13% per annum over the past seven years (compared with 2% for US "brick and mortar" enrolments). Other indicators of success include completion rates, programme sustainability over a number of years, and academic reputation.

Researchers have (understandably) questioned why the success of e-learning in US universities does not transfer more readily to a European context. Is it the economy, the geography, the demographics, or the population density; the nature of the respective educational funding models; or something else entirely? Indeed, these are but a few of the differences that may contribute to the challenge of e-learning transfer. Consider also the vast differences in quality models, academic focus, relevant public policy, language/culture, and technology uptake. In a global culture where online degrees are rapidly acquiring credibility, and students have begun to actively pursue online degrees via overseas institutions, these are critical questions to consider when pondering the future of education in Europe.

It is certain that North American ideas in e-learning form worthy comparators, and in countless cases do see transfer to Europe (and beyond). For example, many of the early course/learning management systems which formulated our earliest understanding of "online learning" in the mid-1990s were developed in either America or Canada, e.g. LotusNotes, FirstClass, Blackboard and WebCT. A distinctly American company with American attitudes and products, Blackboard learning management systems remains in common usage across Europe (despite recent trends towards OER in the market). Institutions worldwide have sought to mirror the success of the US in exporting learning via the internet.

There is also more general discussion of the "Americanisation of Education" seen in some European countries - which is too broad and controversial a topic to address here.

Whatever the ramifications, the past would suggest that European analysts should indeed examine US e-learning trends in order to better understand (and possibly predict) directions for growth in their own countries.

Notable practices

The unusually decentralised nature of US education makes it difficult to locate national practices that might be applied more broadly. Note, however, that this decentralisation seems to have stimulated the development of virtual schools within the US in an unprecedented manner. Virtual Schools may be public or private; private organisations may partner with public school systems; and online courses may be partly or purely supplemental (as opposed to full time). There is no shortage of models evolving, and it would seem that the lack of uniformity has proven a rich and fertile ground for development.

Less optimistically, there are many opposed to the dominant role that private, for-profit organisations have come to play in the development of US virtual schools (and in charter schools in particular - see description above). Many of these "academies" have been developed along the lines of a "University of Phoenix" model, and indeed are often owned by large, profit-seeking parent companies. In other words, the unique US educational landscape brings both benefits and challenges. (In this context of post-secondary education, consider the wide range of accrediting agencies, and the longstanding disputes regarding educational quality among for-profit, commercial institutions). It is difficult to judge their applicability in other contexts.


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