Virtual School Meanderings

March 23, 2012

The Future of Colorado Digital Learning: Crafting a Policy Roadmap for Reform

This item showed up in my inbox yesterday.

Thursday Churn: Online roadmap
Education News Colorado
… by the institute and the Donnell-Kay Foundation and featuring Susan Patrick, CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning or iNACOL.

The item actually refers to a report that was recently released, that came out of an event that I criticized a little in this space (see Colorado Summit on Blended/Hybrid Learning).  You can read the full report here and listen to a podcast about it here.

The news item or press release highlights three of the nine recommendations.  Those who follow this space will note that it was just yesterday that I posted notice of a review I authored that criticized a similar ideological report that provided ten steps for better governance on the digital learning front (see News from the NEPC; Freer Rein for Online Learning Programs? Review Finds No Evidence To Support Unrestricted Expansion).  The three recommendations or areas highlighted in the press release are:

  • Funding: Colorado’s student enrollment count system should allot funding based on multiple attendance count dates. The state currently uses a single fall count date to distribute funding per-pupil, which has prompted concerns as students transfer back and forth between schools. “Such a change addresses funding equity concerns … and provides greater incentive for schools to serve students at risk of dropping out,” the report states.
  • Mastery vs. seat time: Secondary students should earn course credits by demonstrating mastery of knowledge, primarily through end-of-course exams, and “seat time should be eliminated as defined criteria for determining whether a student earns academic course credit.” Students should have multiple opportunities throughout the year to take the exams.
  • Online providers: Individual online course providers should be rewarded based on a system of performance-based funding, “providing the final installment of state dollars when a student successfully completes a course.” A significant share of student funds, as much as 50 percent, should be withheld until a student has successfully completed course requirements.

Now I have to be honest and say that without reading the full report, on face value the first and third items are reasonable items.  In fact, the funding model that has been in place for K-12 distance education in British Columbia (a model that I admire a great deal) has used the first suggestion (i.e., funding apportioned based on milestones throughout the students online studies) for some time.  I also agree that the third item, providing up to 50% of the FTE only if the student successfully completes the course, is also a useful measure for online programs, as it prevents much of the motive to get the students in and happy up until count day and then not having to be too concerned after that.  It should also force these programs, which are supposed to be alternatives to failing schools or for failing students, to actually improve their levels of student performance – as the independent research right now suggests that they are no better, and often times worse, than having the student remain in their traditional brick-and-mortar environment.

The second recommendation is one that I am still unsure about.  While I understand and can get on side with the ability to accelerate or the need for additional time to complete the course for some students (and I fully agree that students should get more than one opportunity to show mastery on the exam), I am still leery of removing all seat time components.  I know that both as a high school student myself and as a university student, there were a lot of credits I could have earned if all I had to do was write the exam.  If the goal of an education is simply obtaining credits or simply passing a standardized exam, then seat time should not be the measure or the admissions ticket to being able to write that exam.  However, I still like to believe that the purpose of K-12 education (and higher education for that matter) is more than simply passing exams and obtaining credits.  I believe that there are skills that students learn that either can’t be tested or because they are too difficult or expense for the for profit corporations who are driving the testing industry in the United States to measure that are critical for students to gain, and that can only be gained by time, exposure and experience in a course.

I haven’t read the full report, and the fact that these are based on the Digital Learning Now guidelines leads me to believe that if I read the full report I would be more critical or its neo-liberal, corporate-driven motives.  But I’ll leave that for another day.


  1. […] } #themeHeader #titleAndDescription * { color: black; } – Today, 1:27 […]

    Pingback by The Future of Colorado Digital Learning: Crafting a Policy Roadmap for Reform | E-Learning and Online Teaching | — March 23, 2012 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  2. Mr. Barbour,

    Thank you for bringing attention to the new Colorado digital learning policy roadmap, which reflects the views of a wide range of the state’s K-12 online educators and policy experts. I appreciate you bringing your expertise to contribute to this important conversation, but have one factual correction to make for your audience. The document did not come out of the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Colorado Summit on Blended Learning (either the 2010 or 2011 edition). It came out of a more recent event (January 2012) at the Independence Institute, that also happened to be co-sponsored by Donnell-Kay and featured iNACOL’s Susan Patrick as keynote speaker and facilitator:

    Comment by Ben DeGrow — March 23, 2012 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

    • So noted… Although, I suspect the criticism that I had with the 2010 event was likely relevant for the 2011 and 2012 events as well. Given the inter-connectedness of all of these K-12 online learning proponents and proponent groups (which some would describe in less kind language), and the fact that the recommendations are based on the Digital Learning Now recommendations, I’m confident that this is much of the same neo-liberal push to open up the market of public education for corporations.

      Comment by mkbnl — March 23, 2012 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

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