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Minnesota Online Options Act Work Group

The Minnesota Online Options Act Work Group met during April - August 2021 to review the Minnesota Online Learning Options Act and provide recommendations on what policy changes are needed in Minnesota to reflect the current state of online learning, meet the needs of students, and create conditions for innovative practice.

Online Learning Act Work Group Report 2021.pdf


Minnesota Online Options Act Work Group Report


Expand each section below to read the report or download the PDF




Background

The Minnesota “Online Learning Option Act” (M.S.124D.095) first appeared in Minnesota Statutes in 2003. At this time, online learning was an unfamiliar concept to most people and the legislation was written to clarify funding, ensure equity of access, and establish quality online educational options. Since then, advances in technology and pedagogy have created new ways of providing instruction and numerous opportunities for students. Examples include easy access to live videoconferencing, CTE partnerships and pathways, new developments in learning management system design and capabilities, and new digital tools and education resources that enable interactive learning.

Online and digital learning have been brought into sharp focus by the COVID 19 global pandemic. Our entire K-12 workforce now has experience with digital learning as do all families with school-age children. Not all of the experiences have been positive for students, families, or educators, but they have opened our eyes to new opportunities and highlighted tensions with existing policies and structures. As schools move forward with planning for the next school year and beyond, this is a good time to take stock in the experiences educators and students have had, evaluate lessons learned, and consider how to seize opportunities to provide public education in new ways.

The Minnesota Learning Commons (MNLC), a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Education, University of Minnesota, and Minnesota State convened a group of education professionals experienced with online learning both before and during the pandemic to examine the existing Minnesota Online Learning Options Act and make recommendations on potential changes to policy to better meet the needs of Minnesota’s students.

Recommendations

Topics for Immediate Action, Procedure Change, Guidance

  1. Encourage and facilitate opportunities for collaboration and partnership between online providers and school districts.

  2. Revise the three-year review process facilitated by MDE to create opportunities for online learning programs to work together in professional learning communities.

  3. Improve communication and information for online learning options for families and districts so that barriers to participation are removed.

  4. Create clear guidance regarding online learning service contracts with third-party vendors.


Topics for Law or Policy Change

  1. Private and homeschool students should be able to access supplemental courses. (This requires eliminating the line “at a school building” in the shared time statute.)

  2. The current definition of residency/domicile/physical presence should be reevaluated.

  3. MDE should make recommendations for restructuring the current law so it is sectioned in a way that makes it clear what students can do, what schools can do, and what MDE is required to do. MDE should also develop accompanying guidance that provides clarity for different audiences.

  4. Remove barriers for school districts and charter schools to provide flexible learning options, including online instruction, to their enrolled students. Such a proposal must include clear guidelines for administrative control, alignment with Minnesota academic and graduation standards, and instruction provided by licensed teachers employed by the public school offering the program.

  5. There should be extended year opportunities for credit recovery for all students without barriers that require site-based or synchronous attendance.

  6. The Online Learning Advisory Council should be reinstated, along with a budget for its operation to bring to the attention of the commissioner and the legislature any matters related to online and digital learning. The advisory council shall provide input to the department and the legislature in online learning matters related, but not restricted, to: (1) quality assurance; (2) teacher qualifications; (3) program approval; (4) special education; (5) attendance; (6) program design and requirements; and(7) fair and equal access to programs.

Topics for Study

  1. Online learning programs, MDE, and districts should collaborate to determine better/different accountability measures that better align with program outcomes.

  2. MDE should study alternative funding models that are not based solely on seat time.


Contributing Members

Members of the Online Learning Options Act Work Group were recruited on the basis of their organizational affiliation, experience with online learning, and student groups represented by their organizations. Jeff Plaman, Online and Digital Learning Specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education has served as chair, and Mary Mehsikomer, Outreach Facilitator, Sourcewell Technology and Jon Voss, Director of Teaching and Learning, Intermediate District 287 have been co-facilitators for the group. Sourcewell Technology, as the administrator for the Minnesota Learning Commons, has assisted with planning, facilitation and communication. Members of the Work Group are listed below:

Krin Abraham, Superintendent, Houston Public Schools

Sean Beaverson, Digital Learning Specialist, Edina Public Schools

Jason Berg, Superintendent, Farmington Public Schools

Jocelynn Buckenthin, Digital Learning Specialist, Hutchinson Public Schools

Gigi Dobosenski, Director, EdVisions

Jenn Fuchs, Principal, Duluth Edison Charter School

Jenn Hegna, Technology Director, Byron Public Schools

John Iverson, Online Learning, St. Paul Public Schools

Shawntel Jenkins, Principal, K-12 Online Learning, Minneapolis Public Schools

Mary Mehsikomer, Outreach Facilitator, Sourcewell Technology, Co-Facilitator

John Olson, Science Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

Jeff Plaman, Online and Digital Learning Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education, Chair

Tracy Quarnstrom, Director, Wolf Creek Academy

Christopher Reynolds, Special Education, Minnesota Department of Education

Holly Skadsem, Digital Learning Specialist, Bloomington Public Schools

Jon Voss, Director of Teaching and Learning, Intermediate District 287, Co-Facilitator

Kelly Wosika, Education Finance, Minnesota Department of Education

Questions? Contact Jeff Plaman, Online Learning Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education, at jeff.plaman@state.mn.us.