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Colo. Digital Learning Policy Alternate Route Gives Some Spring Break Hope

Have you ever tried to plan a trip to an important new destination? Maybe it was a long road trip for SPRING BREAK or a family vacation or a visit to an old friend who moved to a new town. You program your GPS, or at least make a search on Google Maps first. (Back in the old days, they tell me you had to actually use a fold-up road map, plotting your way across highways from one city to the next.)

One thing those old road maps couldn’t tell you — and even sometimes the fancy technology lets you down — is about major road construction, a rush-hour traffic jam, or a bridge washed out ahead. You may have already plotted your route, but at that point an unexpected development compels you to go back, change the plan, and find a detour.

Almost a couple full years ago now, my Education Policy Center friends worked with online school leaders and other smart policy folks to help craft a Digital Learning Policy Road Map for Colorado. The brief report laid out a sequence of concrete changes that needed to happen to ensure digital technology was best used to “enhance opportunities for Colorado’s children to achieve educational success.”

Well, sad as it makes this little edublogger, state officials didn’t immediately rush out with the publication in hand and start guiding Colorado toward a better place. It hasn’t turned out exactly like we hoped or planned. But recently, a promising alternate route has emerged.

A couple months ago four Colorado legislators called together a seven-member K-12 Online Education Task Force (including senior education policy analyst Ben DeGrow) to make recommendations designed to “improve the quality of education for all students in Colorado who use online learning as part or all of their access to learning.”

Late last week the group came up with five key recommendations that could be acted upon before this legislative session wraps up in just over six weeks. Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Todd Engdahl captured the difficulty of navigating the process on time:

“We’ve got to move quickly. It’s a little challenging,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, one of the four. Young and Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood met with the task force Friday. Young said he, Kerr and Republicans Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida probably will consult by phone over the weekend.

To be 100 percent clear, none of the legislators is bound to go along with any or all of the recommended policy changes:

  1. Change the statutory definition of “online school” to provide more flexibility to help students with today’s available technology
  2. Allow for more ways to measure attendance and enrollment of students in online schools besides just logging in to the learning management system
  3. Reduce requirement to transfer student data to a receiving school from 30 to 14 days
  4. Give the State Board of Education and CDE direct oversight not of multi-district online schools, but the agencies that authorize them
  5. Enact a series of pilot programs that would test and replicate innovative ideas like course-level funding and competency-based funding, as well as expanded accountability measures and interventions

Number 5 has caught my attention most of all. What a possibility! There’s still a long way between the recommendations and reality. While it’s not exactly the original digital learning policy road map, it definitely has the chance to help get Colorado to the right destination.

After all, it’s better to have to take a detour and arrive a little late than to turn around and go back home.