As an education reform expert with over 15 years of experience, I‘m frequently asked about superlatives and statistics related to the expansive landscape of American high schools. One question that often comes up – what is the single largest high school in the United States?
With over 24,000 public high schools nationwide serving around 15 million students, the answer requires looking at multiple data points like enrollment sizes, physical campuses, online learners, and more. In this detailed blog post, I‘ll explore the massive enrollment numbers and sprawling campuses that make up the biggest high schools from coast to coast.
Enrollment Numbers: Penn Foster High School
When evaluating the largest high schools simply by total student enrollment, one institution stands out from the pack – Penn Foster High School located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
An astounding 45,000 students are currently attending Penn Foster High School, making it the largest high school in the nation by enrollment size. This enrollment figure includes both students taking traditional in-person classes at Penn Foster‘s campus in Scranton as well as those enrolled in the school‘s extensive distance learning programs.
To understand how Penn Foster became such a powerhouse in secondary education, it helps to look back at its origins in 1890. It was founded by newspaper editor and education advocate Thomas J. Foster as a learning institution aimed at providing coal miners with the education and vocational training needed for their careers and safety practices.
Along with the high school, Foster also established the Penn Foster Career School for professional development and Penn Foster College for higher education. His vision was to create an integrated education system that could meet the needs of working adults and other non-traditional students.
Today, Penn Foster High School carries on that important mission of making quality education accessible to all by offering flexible online programs combined with traditional classroom instruction. Across the U.S., students take Penn Foster‘s core academic classes and electives either in-person or via blended remote learning options to earn an accredited high school diploma.
For example, in the 2021-2022 academic year, Penn Foster had over 15,000 students taking in-person classes at their Pennsylvania campus, while more than 30,000 additional students were enrolled in their nationwide distance learning programs.
Innovative education models like these allow Penn Foster to reach students from diverse backgrounds and ensure equitable access to secondary education. Many students opt for Penn Foster‘s flexible options to work around employment, family needs, health issues, or other obligations. The school even provides specific support programs for migrant students, homeless youth, and other vulnerable populations.
Over its 130+ year history, Penn Foster High School has been widely recognized for excellence and innovation. Their accolades include the International Distance Learning Award in 2014, the Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Award in 2015, and being named one of the Best Online High Schools by U.S. News.
Their curriculum meets rigorous standards, with graduation requirements mandating at least 21 credits in subjects like English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health, and Electives. As an education reformer, I‘m impressed by their quality curriculum, stellar academic outcomes, and commitment to access for all learners.
With its unique hybrid learning model and unwavering focus on inclusion, it‘s easy to see why Penn Foster High School has grown to become America‘s largest, serving over 45,000 pupils nationwide. The school offers an inspiring model of how high-quality education can be made available to any student committed to working hard and achieving their dreams.
Largest Campus: Evanston Township High School
When evaluating size based just on the physical footprint of campus facilities, the largest high school in the United States is Evanston Township High School, located in Evanston, Illinois.
This sprawling public school campus covers an immense 65 acres just north of Chicago. The school first opened its doors in 1883 and was one of the first public high schools in the area. As enrollment grew, a new 55-acre location was secured in 1915 and later expanded to the current 65-acre campus.
Today over 3,400 students attend Evanston Township High School. The expansive grounds provide exceptional facilities to serve their student body, such as:
Planetarium: Evanston‘s onsite planetarium offers astronomy courses and open evenings for stargazing.
Greenhouse: Students interested in horticulture can access the greenhouse to study botany and plant sciences.
Nature Center: This dedicated classroom and lab supports environmental science education.
Library & Media Center: The huge library provides resources for research and collaborative study spaces.
South Technology Center: Specialized computer labs and vocational spaces support STEM and IT coursework.
Talking Farm: This urban farming initiative enables hands-on agriculture education.
Daycare Facility: The onsite daycare center enables parenting teens to continue their education.
Gymnasiums: Evanston has multiple gym spaces for physical education, team practices, and competitive athletics.
Performing Arts Center: The campus auditorium and scene shop facilities support Evanston‘s acclaimed arts programs.
This wealth of amenities helps explain why Evanston Township is considered the model for large public high school campuses nationwide. Their facilities, academic offerings, and student-teacher ratio are on par with many small liberal arts colleges.
Alumni praise the school‘s breadth of opportunities ranging from vocational training to the performing arts. As an education reformer, I see Evanston Township as an exemplar for what‘s possible in public education given adequate funding and community support.
With over a century of history and a beautiful 65-acre riverside campus providing top-tier facilities, it‘s easy to understand why Evanston Township High School holds the title of the largest public high school in America by sheer physical size.
Other Notable Large Enrollment High Schools
While Penn Foster and Evanston Township take top honors for enrollment and campus size, many other high schools across America also stand out for their huge student bodies:
Acero Schools Chicago – This network of public charter schools serves over 8,000 students, making it one of the largest in Illinois. Acero offers enriched STEAM curriculum and boasts a 97% graduation rate across its campuses.
Orange County Virtual School – One of the pioneers in online education, OCVS now serves over 10,000 students statewide with its virtual high school program. The school is based in Orlando.
Miami-Dade Online Academy – This innovative online public school affiliated with Miami-Dade County Public Schools currently has over 16,000 enrolled students.
Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School – Based in Midland, PA, this public cyber school now educates over 10,000 pupils statewide through personalized online instruction.
Riverside Virtual School – Located in California, this online-only public school provides courses to over 15,000 high school students across the state.
Georgia Cyber Academy – As a public online charter school, Georgia Cyber Academy has enrolled over 13,000 high school students statewide.
Florida Virtual School – One of the nation‘s original virtual public schools, FLVS now serves over 2 million course enrollments each year including over 20,000 high school students.
Connections Academy – This accredited private virtual school educates over 65,000 students in grades K-12 through virtual and blended options across the U.S.
BYU Independent Study – With over 41,000 enrolled students, this Utah online high school takes honors as 2nd largest by enrollment after Penn Foster.
This sample demonstrates the rapid 21st century rise of virtual, blended and charter learning options at the secondary level. As an education reformer, I find this encouraging. Innovation is key to overcoming systemic inequities and transforming the U.S. education system into one that nurtures the potential of every student.
Online options like these allow more students to access education on their own terms – whether due to health challenges, employment schedules, family commitments, pursuit of specialized subject matter, or other considerations. These schools also pioneer new models of personalized, mastery-based education. Their success stories show that given the right structure, high school students can thrive academically in online and blended environments.
However, we must also ensure accountability and equitable access when it comes to virtual schools. As enrollments grow, funding and oversight mechanisms must be in place to guarantee quality and prevent predatory profiteering in education. Still, if implemented ethically and inclusively, these innovative high schools represent the future.
Vision for the Future
In my years as an education reformer, I‘ve seen firsthand the creativity and passion that exists among parents, students, teachers, administrators and communities to transform secondary education. While immense challenges remain, I‘m heartened by the progress that‘s been made.
My vision moving forward focuses on two key priorities:
First, we must continue expanding access and equity in high school education. Every student deserves quality teachers, safe facilities, diverse peers, and academic rigor regardless of family income, race, gender, or zip code.
To achieve this, we need adequate public education funding along with innovations like tuition assistance programs, virtual academies, credit recovery, and competency-based advancement. Let‘s learn from successes like Penn Foster High School in removing barriers for underserved learners.
Secondly, high schools must evolve to meet 21st century needs. Today‘s teens require education that fosters critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and real-world application. Instruction should integrate technology and hands-on experiences while allowing students flexibility and choice in what they learn.
Academies, STEAM programs, experiential options, and early college pathways show promising models for making secondary education engaging, empowering and effective. Students also need expanded guidance and support services to navigate decisions about careers, higher education, and life skills development after high school.
By making progress in access, equity, funding, innovation, and responsiveness to students‘ needs, I see an inspiring future ahead for secondary education nationwide. The examples set by Penn Foster, Evanston Township and other visionary high schools across America will light the path. There arealways more opportunities to learn, grow and improve. But if we stay focused on students, I‘m filled with hope for the progress to come.
In closing, the largest high school in the United States by current enrollment is Penn Foster High School in Pennsylvania, serving over 45,000 pupils nationwide. By campus size, Evanston Township High School takes top honors with its 65-acre facility just outside Chicago.
Indicators like enrollment and campus size offer limited snapshots. The real measure of a successful high school is the experiences and outcomes of each student. But these mega high schools provide insights into how scale, innovation and community support can expand educational access if we let them inspire rather than intimidate us. By learning from schools like these, districts nationwide can pursue reforms that transform learning and unlock the potential of every student. There are always more opportunities to learn, grow and improve.