Colo. online education still expanding; oversight still failing

The Colorado Department of Education, which took heat in 2006 for not adequately policing online charter schools, still isn’t.

The news comes as the popularity of online learning continues to rise. A report issued by the CDE in February, noted that online enrollment in K-12 online charter schools rose 26 percent between 2007 and 2009.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports:

Online programs are being fueled by improvements in technology and Internet speed that allow for such offerings as live online classes and Internet discussions. But the big draw is the flexibility that such programs offer students — not only with daily schedules but also with course offerings, said Pamela Ice, director of online learning for CDE.

Despite new stricter guidelines — and the creation of an entirely new Division of Online Learning at CDE — there is still no detention for online schools that don’t make the grade.

This spring, CDE sent corrective action letters to four online schools. The largest of them, Hope Co-op Online Learning Academy, fell below expectations in 20 of 25 categories.

But in response to the schools’ “surprise” over the corrective action letters, CDE later sent out letters that promised not to sanction the districts, citing a desire to work with rather than punish the schools.

In a KUNC interview, former state Sen. Sue Windels, who co-sponsored the legislation that set out stricter guidelines, had no patience for the schools’ “surprise.” She said the schools have known about the new guidelines since May, 2007, when they were first passed.

Windels’ legislation came after a 2006 state audit blamed CDE’s lax oversight for problems involving some Colorado online schools. Academic performance at some online schools was poor. The schools also failed to perform background checks and undertake adequate accounting.

At Hope Online, for example, state funds appeared to be going to churches and religious schools, a violation of the law.

Then-education commissioner William Moloney explained that resources had not kept pace with the growing popularity of online education. Legislators agreed, passing SB 215, which created new guidelines and a new Division of Online Learning within the CDE.

“In 2006, they asked for more tools,” noted KUNC reporter Grace Hood. “Now they have them, but they’re not using them.”

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Katie Redding

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