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Polis responds to online schools series

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat who formerly served on the State Board of Education, represents Colorado’s Second Congressional District, including Adams, Boulder, Jefferson and Weld counties.

Nancy Mitchell and Burt Hubbard’s recent series on online education highlighted concerns about online public schools and student achievement. Three aspects of these articles warrant further discussion.

First, Colorado holds traditional schools, online schools, and those that combine both approaches to the same standards. While no accountability system is perfect, Colorado’s use of test growth data to measure the annual progress of each student is the best transparent data we have for measuring outcomes.

Second, St. Vrain Superintendent Don Haddad is entirely correct in attacking schools that take advantage of Colorado’s arbitrary October 1 student enrollment count date. This is a problem that applies to all public schools in the state, not just online schools. The solution is to fund all districts based on actual daily attendance or enrollment averages or multiple count days. A more accurate measure of a school’s attendance would also create an incentive to reduce truancy and improve retention and graduation rates. In addition, an improved student count policy would direct funding where students are being educated, not just where they were on October 1.

Third, the series raised concerns about online students’ lack of social interaction. While online learning works best for many students, others benefit from an approach that blends traditional and online instruction. But Colorado law reduces options for students because the per pupil allotment can’t be split between online and traditional schools. Allowing for funding flexibility in this area would help better match instruction to each student’s needs.

If our goal is to improve all Colorado schools — online, traditional, hybrid or blended — then all schools should be held to the same standards and funded based on actual attendance or enrollment. Schools should be judged based on student performance, not whether instruction is delivered in front of a blackboard, over broadband or both. As state lawmakers are preparing school finance legislation for 2012, I hope they’ll consider these solutions to ensure that all schools are held to the same high standards of student achievement.

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