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Voices: New law broadens online and blended education supports

The Colorado Children’s Campaign’s Reilly Pharo and the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Matt Samelson outline changes a new law will bring to online and blended learning in Colorado.

With an eye on expanding K-12 online and blended course offerings as well as the professional development assistance needed to deliver the courses, state Senator Ellen Roberts and state Representative Don Coram brought forward and passed legislation that will increase opportunities for Colorado students, particularly in rural Colorado.

Now, what exactly does this legislation do?*

Track academic performance of students in online and blended learning courses? Check. Provide educator access to professional development for online and blended courses? Check. Create local level supports at schools and districts for these courses? Check. Promote mentoring to help students be more successful in an online environment? Check. Increasing market incentives for high quality providers in the state? Check.

On April 19, Governor John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 13-139, which outlines aspirational goals for utilizing online and blended learning strategies and improves the process for selecting a vendor to provide these services. Under the new law, the goals of online courses and blended learning strategies are to:

  • Expand the availability of online courses and blended learning strategies;
  • Increase the number of students taking high quality online courses;
  • Establish a program so Colorado schools can create and sustain their own high quality blended learning course, professional development, and mentoring support;
  • Increase the capacity of educators to deploy data for their classes; and
  • Document and share best practices.

In order to achieve these goals, the bill created a selection committee charged with awarding contracts to statewide online education providers. The selection committee will include representatives from a designated BOCES, the Colorado Department of Online and Blended Learning office, a national expert in online and blended learning, an administrator from an alternative learning campus, and an administrator from a school that purchases online or blended services.

The new law supports increased choices for Colorado students because the selected nonprofit entity will provide supplemental online courses, professional development for educators, and consulting assistance to school districts, charter schools, and BOCES wanting to offer online and blended learning for their students.

The new law improves the state’s ability to provide supplemental online offerings by removing an arbitrary cost per-course cap of $200 that resulted in a distorted market, limiting the expansion of high quality supplemental courses.

What is the bottom line? This new law, passed with bipartisan support, facilitates the creation of a more dynamic online and blended learning education market in Colorado that provides improved supports for both teachers and students. We thank the legislative sponsors for bringing this forward as it moves Colorado one step closer to having a more robust and student centered blended learning system.

*Initially adopted into law in 2007, the supplemental online course services program receives $480,000 annually from federal mineral leasing revenues transferred to the state public school fund.

This piece was cross-posted from the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s blog.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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