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School For The Digital Generation
CNBC.com | September 19, 2011 | 10:09 AM EDT

When Ohio started removing science and social studies from its elementary school curriculum, Patty Elwell took action. Rather than opting for a private school or home school, however, Elwell in 2004 became one of the first parents to enroll her kids in an online public school.

“In spite of everyone’s best efforts the local school couldn’t meet their academic needs,” says Elwell, a former full-time teacher in southwest Ohio who has a son in 12th grade and a daughter in ninth. “My only regret was I didn’t do it sooner."

Both children are enrolled in the Ohio Virtual Academy , an online charter school that is tuition free to state residents. The digital curriculum enabled her kids to take high-school courses in eighth grade, and today offers access to advanced placement and honors courses being cut in traditional classrooms.

Elwell is in the vanguard of a growing number of parents and educators leveraging technology to transform grade-school education. Enrollment in online public schools supported by education software provider K12 has grown from about 1,000 students 10 years ago to more than 100,000 today.

Overall, more than half a million students are learning online full-time in the U.S., according to education researcher Ambient Insight. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have virtual schools, while 29 states offer full-time online schools.

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