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Digital ed study gets panel nod

A bill that would commission a study of digital education was approved by the House Education Committee Monday.

The panel voted 13-0 to advance House Bill 12-1124 to the floor after hearing from a parade of witnesses that was unusually long for a study bill.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of House Ed. It would require the state Department of Education to hire a Colorado-based consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of digital education and report back to the State Board of Education, the governor and the legislative education committees by Jan. 31, 2013.

“I hope there’s legislation that comes out of it [the study],” Massey told Education News Colorado. (But Massey, because of term limits, won’t be in the 2013 legislature.)

If the study is approved, it would join a long list of education issues that have been studied by non-lawmakers before the legislature acted.

  • A 2006 audit of online education programs led to creation of a commission that made recommendations to the 2007 legislature, which passed a law on the issue.
  • Management and financial problems with the Cesar Chavez Charter Network led the 2010 legislature to create a committee to study improvements in charter management and authorizing. That panel’s recommendations are only now being considered as bills by the 2012 legislature.
  • The 2010 legislature also formalized the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which made recommendations for a new teacher evaluation system to the SBE, which in turn issued rules that this year’s legislature is reviewing.

Problems with online education surfaced again last year (see this examination by EdNews and the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network), but Massey’s interest is not in sorting out those problems. Rather, he’s interested in developing data about both online education and in-classroom use of technology to inform future policy decisions.

The study, as summarized by a legislative staff, is supposed to examine:

  • Student eligibility for and access to digital learning
  • The quality of available digital learning content and instruction
  • Funding models for digital learning that create incentives for performance
  • Other states’ experience integrating digital learning into K-12 education
  • The need for information technology infrastructure
  • Current state laws and rules concerning digital learning
  • The extent to which current school accountability measures are appropriate and sufficient
    to measure the performance of online students

Massey said in an interview that he feels a study, rather than legislative action this session, is needed because very little information and data exist now about the issue. “We have to start from ground zero.”

Some witnesses and committee members questioned the use of a consultant, rather than a committee to study the issue.

Massey told EdNews after the meeting that he feels using an outside consultant will be a more efficient way to handle the issue. The bill specifies that the study will be funded by “gifts, grants and donations,” and Massey said at least two non-profit groups have indicated interest in both funding and doing the study. The bill specifies that the consultant “cannot be a provider of digital learning or related technologies, or otherwise have a conflict of interest in conducting the study.”

Massey declined to identify possible bidders for the contract.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, has said he wants to introduce legislation to regulate – or change the funding of – multi-district online education programs, but he hasn’t yet detailed his intentions. He’s keeping his plans, if any, close to this vest.

Massey said Monday he doesn’t know what, if anything, Shaffer is planning.

Read the bill and check the legislative staff summary.

Another current enrollment bill

House Education also gave unanimous approval to House Bill 12-1146, which would authorize school districts and community colleges to make agreements under which certain kinds of students at high risk of dropping out could take high school-level classes at community colleges in order to receive their diplomas. They also would receive college credit for the classes. School districts would continue to receive per-pupil funding for such students and would pay their community college tuition.

The bill is needed to protect existing programs at Front Range Community College and Pueblo Community College, whose funding could be threatened by scheduled changes in overall state law on concurrent high school-community college enrollment.

But Geri Anderson, community college system provost, said other colleges are looking into such programs.

For the record

House Bill 1201001 – This is the bill to ratify the regulations for implementation of the new educator evaluation system. It received preliminary Senate approval.

House Bill 12-1072 – This measure, which would direct the higher education system to create ways for adult students to earn college credit for life experience, received preliminary House floor approval.

Senate Bill 12-051 – The bill would suggest that school boards consider the potential compatibility of outside contractors with school goals and atmosphere when hiring them. It got preliminary Senate floor approval.

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