01.11.12 State Bd. of Ed. to Vote on Toughening Standards for Online Schools
Colorado's online schools would have to reveal more about their finances and be subject to the same standards as their brick-and-mortar schools if the Colorado Board of Education approves new governing online learning.
In addition, the state will more thoroughly scrutinize new applications for online schools, Amy Anderson, who directs the state Department of Education's office of innovation and choice told the Denver Post.
Those new rules would establish new quality standards for online schools and make them subject to the same scrutiny as the state's other schools when they don't meet those standards.
The proposed changes result from a 2011 state law that asked the state Department of Education to tighten up regulations regarding online schools.
Some online schools have come under fire for enrollment numbers that start high in the fall, then plummet by the time school ends — and standardized tests are taken — in the spring. In 2010, several online schools reported enrollment drops of more than 20 percent; one large online school saw enrollment drop by more than half.
Critics say online schools deliberately bulk up enrollment to collect money, then pay little attention as students drift away.
Supporters of virtual schools argue that attrition rates reflect the often-challenged and -troubled students the online programs serve.
In 2010, 15,249 pupils, or nearly 2 percent of the state's total K-12 enrollment, attended online schools.
Some of those schools are operated within a single school district, but 22 can enroll students statewide. Each online school must be authorized by a brick- and-mortar district, which oversees the online school.
Meanwhile, as the 2012 legislative session gets underway, Senate President Brandon Shaffer says a bill proposing changes in funding and further regulation of online schools could be ready for introduction in a couple of weeks.
11.08.11 Colorado State Senator wants to 'Rein In' Online Schools
A Colorado State Senator said he’ll introduce legislation to “rein in” online schools after his request for an online education audit was rejected on a party-line vote by the Legislative Audit Committee.
“I am very disappointed Republicans chose to make this into a partisan issue, instead of simply doing the right thing,” Senate President Brandon Shaffer, told Education News Colorado.
“Despite overwhelming evidence of widespread fraud and abuse by online schools, they blocked an audit that would have saved Colorado taxpayers millions of dollars,” Shaffer said. “I will bring forward legislation during the 2012 session to reign in these abuses and restore accountability to the system.”
But Republican lawmakers said Shaffer’s request was political and they proposed an alternative – an audit focused on all K-12 schools, rather than narrowly tailored to online programs. That idea was rejected by Democrats.
“Let’s look at the big picture of this and truly audit something that will be useful instead of something that will be only used as a political wedge on one form of education,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe. “An attack on parental choice is what we’re really looking at here,” Renfroe said, “as opposed to trying to solve the problem of our failure of our education system at some levels.”
Shaffer requested an emergency audit of full-time K-12 online schools on Sept. 26, citing concerns about poor performance, high dropout rates and lack of oversight.
Members of the Legislative Audit Committee agreed on a 5-3 vote – with Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, joining four Democrats – to authorize State Auditor Dianne Ray to study the feasibility of an audit and report back.
Meanwhile, Shaffer renewed his appeal for an audit on Oct. 18, citing an array of media reports highlighting concerns about online programs, including a three-part series by Education News Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network.
10.04.11 Education News Colorado Publishes Controversial Series on Online Education
Working with some of the top news outlets in the state, Education News Colorado spent 10 months looking into online learning in the state.
What the series revealed provided fodder to opponents and proponents of the virtual education movement.
The investigation used previously unreleased Colorado Department of Education data to document the path of 10,500 students who were enrolled in the 10 largest online schools beginning in 2008. Those students accounted for more than 90 percent of all online students for the 2008-09 school year. The analysis found that in Colorado:
■Half the online students wind up leaving within a year. When they do, they’re often further behind academically than when they started.
■Online schools produce three times as many dropouts as they do graduates. One of every eight online students drops out of school permanently – a rate four times the state average.
■Millions of dollars are going to virtual schools for students who no longer attend online classes.
■The churn of students in and out of online schools is putting pressure on brick-and-mortar schools, which then must find money in their budgets to educate students who come from online schools mid-year.
Click here to read the complete series and to find a link to a video report.
09.21.11 State Senator Wants Audit of Colorado Online Schools
Colorado Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer requested an emergency audit examining online K-12 schools, citing "serious concerns" about student failure rates and programs that boost enrollment to get state funding.
Shaffer said in a letter to lawmakers on the audit committee that he would like the report completed before the Legislature meets in January and budget discussions begin.
GOP lawmakers on the committee immediately criticized Shaffer's request because audits typically take about nine months to complete. They accused the Senate leader of political maneuvering because he is running for Congress against Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican incumbent in the 4th District.
"It kind reeks of grandstanding for a political campaign to me," Rep. Jim Kerr, a Republican on the audit committee, told the Associated Press.
In the letter outlining his request that some online programs have student failure rates of more than 50 percent and that some students leave programs early. He said some programs lack appropriate oversight and in some instances maximize enrollment rates to get more state funding while having little or no plan for student retention or educational success, AP reported.
Shaffer said the information came from the Colorado Department of Education and Online School Profiles of fall 2010. He said he wants an audit to determine how much it costs to run an online K-12 program, and whether the state should increase or decrease funding and how many programs are for-profit. He said he also wants to know what oversight the programs have and how Colorado's online programs compare to other states, according to AP.
Shaffer said, according to the AP, that he recognizes that online programs can fulfill a legitimate need, "such as course offering being made available in rural parts of the state, and degree programs offered to students who help support their families or are otherwise unable to attend a traditional school."
But he said that during a time when the state is cutting education funding, "we must ensure that every dollar of tax-payer money is spent efficiently and effectively.
05.20.11 Colorado Seeing Shift to Blended Learning
According to policy reports and anecdotal evidence, home-schooled students are becoming blended learning students. An increasing number of home-schooled students are transitioning into some kind of virtual education program.
The number of Colorado students enrolled in online programs jumped from 9,222 in 2007 to 15,249 in 2010, a 65 percent increase, according to the Colorado Department of Education data, compiled by the Colorado Children's Campaign. During the same period, enrollment in private schools dropped 18 percent and the number in traditional home-schooling fell 6 percent,
In its 2011 Kids Count in Colorado report, the children's campaign found the number of children in traditional home- school settings dropped 31 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Mike Chapa, executive director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado, told the Denver Post he believes that home-school hybrids — a class or two at a school, or online — are increasingly popular, as are school district learn-at-home programs.
"I think there's quite a migration" to those programs, he told the Post.
02.14.11 Report: Blended Learning is the Best of Both World for Colorado Students
The Colorado Department of Education has a duty to fulfill the responsibilities regarding online learning.
That's one of the conclusions of a wide-ranging report on the current status, and the future, of online learning in Colorado.
The report was written by the Denver-based Donnell-Kay Foundation. The goal of the report is to "share where Colorado states n terms of its digital and online offerings for public school students, discuss why a shift to a blended model of learning that combines face to face, online and digital learning, is an important next move for Colorado."
The report is full of examples of current K-12 digital learning programs in Colorado. It also offers a number of suggestions and policy recommendations to enhance growth of online learning in the state. One of the suggestions in the report is to Offer financial incentives to districts with established online and blended learning programs to expand these programs and partner with other districts and schools.Another idea is to attract education entrepreneurs to Colorado with start-up funding to develop digital and blended learning programs.
The first part of the report gives an overview of the environment in Colorado for digital learning: how many students currently utilize online learning at some capacity, the options that exist, the quality of current online
offerings, and some of the strengths and challenges of Colorado’s current system for delivering content to students online.
The second section identifies emergent opportunities for Colorado in the areas of blended and online learning. The final section presents policy recommendations.
The report, "strongly encourages education and policy leaders in Colorado to develop a vision and strategy for moving our state to a place where all students have access to high quality learning options, regardless of where they live or the school they attend."
Click here for the complete report.
01.18.11 Colorado's Online Schools Coping with Rapid Growth
As more Colorado students enroll in online and charter schools, districts are coping with the positive--and the challenges--of rapid growth.
Colorado’s total online enrollment grew 14 percent in 2010 year to 15,429 students, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Overall statewide enrollment grew 1.3 percent.
The impact of online student growth can be seen in Julesburg, which is known as the “Gateway to Colorado” and is located in the northeast corner of the state and has a population of about 1,500.
Julesburg had the highest enrollment growth of any Colorado district in the fall of 2010, with a surge of 45 percent. The breakdown: 260 students attend classes on site in district buildings and 1,527--slightly more than the population of the town--take classes through the online Insight School of Colorado.
In a state where student counts determine state funding, enrollment, most of the state money coming to Julesburg, $10 million of the total $12 million, comes from online students.
After passing a percentage to Insight and covering expenses, the Julesburge superintendent Shawn Ehnes told EdNews Colorado the arrangement nets Julesburg about $500,000 annually for extras such as hiring a second music teacher. What's more, he said, Julesburg students can select from Insight’s wide array of elective offerings.
“When we decided to go online, it was with the realization that small rural communities are dying and slowly losing kids and jobs and people,” Ehnes said. “We wanted to begin the process of identifying alternative, outside-the-box ways of generating revenue and maintaining curriculum resources here.”
However, there is a cost. The state’s new rating system gives high marks to Julesburg’s on-site schools but a failing grade to the online program. So the district was placed on “priority improvement” status and must submit an improvement plan for state approval.
“It’s a tale of two cities,” Ehnes said of the on-site and online programs, noting most online students have been unsuccessful in traditional schools. “But we’ve kind of put that in perspective … truly without the curriculum options and the additional revenue, as a brick-and-mortar district, we’d be crippled.”
Another example of the impact of the growth of online classes can be found in Mapleton, the small Adams County district north of Denver, which reported the state’s second-highest growth rate this fall. Enrollment spiked 32 percent after the district added an online school, Connections Academy, and the New America School charter, which serves recent immigrants.
“We try to meet the very diverse needs of the kids in our community,” said Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio. “These two schools serve a population of students that we haven’t previously been able to serve.”
The addition of the online school quadrupled the number of students from other districts enrolling in Mapleton – from 394 last year to 1,648 in fall 2010. Most of the online students were already attending Connections Academy which previously contracted with Denver Public Schools. Connections serves 1,372 students.
11.09.10 Colorado's Online Schools Trail Bricks-and Mortar Schools in Standardized Testing
Colorado's online schools aren't making the grade, if the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests are accurate.
According to the standardized tests given annually to students in grades 3-11, online schools are lagging behind traditional campuses in areas such as academic achievement, student growth and workforce readiness.
Based on data gathered from a school's performance on the CSAP tests, student growth and other indicators, the Colorado Board of Education has come up with a new accountability system. Every school is assigned one of four plan types: performance, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround.
If a school's score places it in the "priority improvement," or "turnaround," the school is required to present and get approval of an improvement plan and to be closely monitored by the state. Eleven out of 17 multi-district online school fell into one of those two categories. Across the state, only 11 percent were in the "priority improvement" or "turnaround" category.
According to KUNC, the NPR station covering Northern Colorado, state school officials are still reviewing data for one of the state's largest schools, Colorado Virtual Academy, which has not been placed in a performance category. The 11 online schools that received low rankings will submit detailed improvement plans to state Department of Education review in January 2011.
2.1.10 Colorado's online school growth slows
Virtual education classes posted a double-digit increase in the fall of 2009, but this was the slowest growth rate since 2007.
According to Education News Colorado, the number of full-time students attending online programs in Colorado grew to 13,128. That's a 12.5 increase over the previous year.
School officials cited many reasons for the slower growth. Read more about it here.
Colorado has a state-led virtual school. It is called Colorado Online Learning and in the 2009-2010 school years, it had approximately 1, 379course enrollments. This was a decrease from the 2008-2009 school year's 1,7777 course enrollments.
If you combine enrollment in the state-led virtual school, the numerous full-time online schools and the district-level online programs, in 2010, Colorado had more than 15,000 students enrolled in online course.
State funding for distance learners is different from state funding for students attending bricks-and-mortar schools.
While levels of funding can be adjusted, based on a number of factors, for brick-and-mortar districts, funding levels remain at the state minimum for most online students.
Colorado does not have a virtual charter school that offers courses statewide.
In 2012, the Colorado Board of Education voted to set of standards for a variety of areas virtual school, charter school operations and charter school authorizing.
The new rules mandate that online schools would have to reveal more about their finances. The rules also state that online schools will be subject to the same standards as bricks-and-mortar schools.
In addition, the state will more thoroughly scrutinize new applications for online schools through creation of online charter school board training modules to train charter school boards in best governing practices.