Effective Colorado Online K-12 Education? Change Policies Without More Regulation

Colorado’s education story of the month has been the state of public online schools. An in-depth investigative report by Ed News Colorado (and Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network) coincided with a request for a formal legislative audit by the state senate’s highest-ranking Democratic official. Ed News Colorado’s three-part series:

The discouraging news cannot be completely brushed aside, yet the attention brought to online schools in Colorado demands context and a focus on genuine, equitable policy solutions that benefit students and support the ability of families to choose among excellent educational options. That’s why I have waited to write about the “story of the month” until my Education Policy Center friend Pam Benigno’s op-ed response was published today in the Denver Post:

Key policy changes also can be made to help improve online learning results while protecting innovation. University teacher preparation programs are drastically behind in training teachers how to use digital tools and how to effectively educate students from a distance. Many veteran teachers need intensive training to develop these new skills, especially as more and more students enroll in programs that blend the power of online learning technology with traditional schooling in various ways.

Further, both traditional and online educators need stronger incentives to keep students in school and ensure they complete course requirements successfully. Rather than funding schools based on how many students show up in early October, the state should use multiple student count dates to determine funding. And as Utah has begun to do this year, funding should follow students to the course level, allowing traditional and digital learning opportunities to be blended and personalized.

The Fordham Foundation’s Education Gadfly echoes the theme about the need for serious policy changes, with a few insights along the lines of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Elsewhere in the piece, Benigno strongly asserts that the last thing online schools and students need is more onerous regulation. My fear is that some lawmakers simply are looking for a large blunt object with which to hit online schools and score some political points. I hope not. Of more interest are those officials interested in honest and effective solutions. Along with today’s opinion-editorial in the Post, they ought to read three thoughtful comments posted on the Ed News stories by former State Board of Education member (and current online school employee) Randy DeHoff: here, here, and here.

Lori’s LOLz (a great Colorado education blog written by an online school parent) also has posted a pair of published letters from other cyberschool moms — one from liberal Boulder and one from conservative Colorado Springs — to offer another valuable perspective that should not be overlooked in the debates that move forward.

Finally, officials need to consider the success of programs that effectively blend traditional and online instruction. After all, while we raise the bar and demand quality educational results, we need to be looking to the future and continue not trying to squeeze all kids into the same learning box.