A conversation about the future of online education in Colorado

On Monday,

the Independence Institute and the Donnell-Kay Foundation co-sponsored a discussion focused on shaping a legislative vision for Colorado online education.  The event was facilitated by Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and co-facilitated by Amy Anderson, Assistant Commissioner of Innovation and Choice, CDE and Randy De Hoff, GOAL Academy; former member, State Board of Education.  There was a great representation from many of the 46 full-time Colorado online programs, the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the Colorado Cyberschools Association, and the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families.

Susan’s national overview of education drove home the underlying fact that education in America needs to change.  Our discussion focused on some of the Elements from the Digital Learning Now! Roadmap for Reform, specifically: Access and Eligibility, Funding, and Assessment and Accountability.   As a group, we came up with some top priorities to help ensure that Colorado students have the greatest access to effective online and blended learning options.

What’s most important is #68 from the Digital Learning Now! Roadmap to Reform, “All schools should be required to have high-speed broadband Internet access.  The internet has changed the way we learn and how we access information and every child should have access to the internet in order to receive a high quality individualized education. Another policy option I was passionate about under Access and Eligibility was #30 “All students should have access to any and all approved providers”. I first learned about this idea form Robyn Bagley when she discussed Utah’s Statewide Online Education Program. It was a real wow factor which opens options for students to individualize their learning by having the opportunity to select different courses from different approved providers.

Funding is an issue that undoubtedly needs to change in Colorado.  We need to move away from seat time so learning can happen anytime, anywhere. Other states have already moved to competency based funding like, Utah, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Kentucky, and other states.  Hopefully Colorado will pass legislation this year that allows us to move away from a single count day in order to personalize education and allow the funds to follow the student.

Assessment and Accountability is a discussion topic which brought about great conversation including performance-based assessments, which is an alternative to the traditional assessment model.  Performance based assessments measure knowledge and skills and can include oral tests, group projects, and written essays for example.  It’s another way of testing for student achievement rather than relying on one annual state standardized test. We need to consider other measurement tools in order to accurately understand and see how our students are succeeding.

Today in the U.S. there are 33 full time online programs and 42 state virtual schools and the trend is in blended learning. Colorado online programs have been around for over 10 years and now and hybrid or blended models have been sprouting up to meet the needs of a diverse group of students and their individual learning needs.

Colorado online schools have provided an innovative, individualized education for thousands of students.  There are so many success stories and testimony from students and families who have benefited from the online model.  Like any public school, Colorado online schools are always looking at ways to improve and better serve their students.  Now it’s time for Colorado policymakers to create and implement policy for the 2012 legislative session that will ensure our families have the greatest access to effective online schools and the blended learning model.

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