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    Online learning, career prep gain popularity for high school students

    Two popular trends in American education are converging to support the academic and career interests of high school students nationwide: online learning and Career Technical Education (CTE) courses.

    Once considered an option for higher education only, online learning continues to attract younger students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In particular, full-time virtual public schools, that afford students the opportunity to learn anytime and anywhere there is an Internet connection, are a growing form of K-12 education.

    An estimated 275,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grades are getting their entire educations online from full-time virtual public schools like those supported by online school provider Connections Academy, according to “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning,” a report by Evergreen Education Group. Still others are choosing innovative new blended schools like Nexus Academy, where online learning is combined with unique, brick and mortar campuses.

    Why are kids opting to go to school online? The reasons are varied.

    Connections Academy’s 2013 Parent Satisfaction Survey showed that 50 percent of parents said their child does not learn well in a traditional school, while 43 percent expressed the need for flexibility. Forty-two percent wanted a change from their current school environment and 37 percent wanted a safe learning environment. Plus, virtual public schools and blended schools are tuition-free and part of the public education system.

    At the same time, interest in Career Technical Education is blossoming – and for good reason. The U.S. Department of Education found that students enrolled in CTE programs have a high school graduation rate of more than 90 percent, compared to the average national freshman graduation rate of 75 percent. Additionally, 70 percent of students concentrating in CTE areas stayed in post-secondary education or transferred to a four-year degree program.

    Responding to the growing demand for CTE and online learning, Connections Academy recently expanded its traditional college-prep curriculum to include a series of Career Technical Education courses – all delivered online. Now, in addition to college prep, virtual school students can take courses like Introduction to Law, Accounting, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Medical Terminology and more.

    “Career education isn’t a new idea, but increased awareness for CTE, coupled with the delivery online and to younger high school students, is really exciting,” says Dr. Patricia Hoge, chief academic officer for Connections Academy. “Providing career education, even introductory courses, is a great way for students to ‘try-out’ a career that interests them. And because courses like ours are delivered online, they provide more flexibility and personalization for students while their teachers are better able to focus on the needs of individuals.”

    Educators also say two factors may be boosting student demand for both e-learning and CTE courses: the desire for 21st Century learning skills and workforce readiness, and the request for scheduling flexibility for older students to pursue internships and/or part-time employment.

    Currently 14 million students are enrolled in CTE courses – encompassing every state, with programs in nearly 1,300 public high schools and 1,700 two-year-colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Many traditional brick and mortar schools and districts are also making the new online CTE courses available to their students.

    Educators and employers see CTE courses as helping the country address our challenges of economic development, student achievement and global competitiveness. Students love their real world relevance, mixed with core academics.

    Students and parents interested in online CTE courses or full-time virtual school programs that incorporate CTE learning options still have time to enroll for the coming school year in many states. To learn more, visit the Connections Academy or Connections Learning by Pearson websites.

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