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Online task force turning to recommendations

The seven-member task force that’s been discussing online education has identified four issues for possible legislative consideration this year and has 17 days to develop recommendations in those areas.

One key issue – accountability measures for online schools – apparently is off the table for this year. The K-12 Online Education Task Force’s statement of “potential issues and problem statements” says, “The current accountability system is an unrealistic and incomplete indicator of student and school performance.” But the group has concluded that issue isn’t ready for consideration by the 2014 legislature because “more study and conversation among stakeholders” is needed.

The group also decided that the issue of how to get districts and schools to coordinate drop-in centers for online students needs further review and isn’t ready for legislation.

The task force identified four areas that may be ready for legislative consideration:

  • Updating and expanding the definition of online education to account for the growing variety of part-time, full-time blended and other forms of virtual education.
  • Refocusing the Department of Education’s work on improving the quality of online authorizers. “A lack of oversight of multi-district authorizers enables some schools to switch to authorizers who may not have the capacity to support online schools,” the task force says.
  • Speeding the transfer of student data from school districts to online schools.
  • Improved counting of online enrollment and inflexible funding for online students.

See this document for the task force’s full problem statements.

Online education has been a controversial subject since 2006, when a state audit found low academic performance by online students and weak state oversight.

In subsequent years a variety of studies, Department of Education reports, an in-depth investigation by EdNews Colorado (now Chalkbeat Colorado) and low performance ratings for some online schools have continued to raise questions about virtual schools, particularly some multi-district and for-profit programs. Key issues include low student performance, student turnover and cost to the state.

(A new study released this week by the National Education Policy Center also found continued serious problems with full-time virtual schools.)

The task force has held three full meetings and two public comment sessions to develop the problem statements. It now has until March 21 to develop the recommendations and report to a quartet of legislators who organized the group and are considering online legislation this session.

See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for a list of task force members and links to past studies and reports on online schools in the state. The task force webpage is here.