Take Another Look at Colorado Online Results

Colorado’s online schools hit the news last week.  In particular, GOAL Academy was singled out for high turnover rates and poor academic performance over the last two years.
Scathing articles, the result of a 10-month investigation by Education News Colorado and the I-News Network,  found that half of online K-12 students leave midway through the school year and student achievement drops after the switch to online schools. The articles’ chief complaint was that traditional school districts were missing out on funding after kids tried GOAL and then headed back to their traditional school.
The Education Gladfly pointed out in its weekly bulletin that while the results may be disappointing, the problem is with the state law in Colorado which funds schools on a single day count:

The Centennial State’s virtual schools did not commit malfeasance: They followed the letter of the law. In Colorado, school funding is based on a single “count” day, meaning that schools receive a set number of funds based on enrollment numbers in October, irrespective of how many students still attend that school in June. It’s no big surprise that virtual schools would have high attrition rates—students and families are trying out a very different model of education, after all—which makes it even more inexcusable for states to maintain funding systems that don’t take twenty-first-century realities into account

Tom’s recent blog, Funding That Creates Incentives for Performance, Options & Innovation details the guidance presented in Digital Learning Now.  Colorado should fund providers on a weekly attendance count with incentives for completion and achievement.  There should be incentives for operators like GOAL to serve at risk kids, particularly those behind in credits.  Tom also provided guidance on Authorizing High Performance.  
Jeff Kwitowski of K12 told one of the TV stations:

“K12 agrees that Colorado should move away from a school funding model based on a single count date to a better model, such as an average daily membership (average number of school days that students are enrolled during the year), which is used in many other states.  We agree that schools and school districts should not be funded for students who are no longer enrolled with them.  Average daily membership funding models are fairer for the state, its schools and students.”

OK, on to the second problem–the completion rates were lousy.  A little disaggregated data would help here.  Susan Patrick, director of the online learning association (iNACOL) said the rate of seniors that are over-aged under-credited coming to online programs their senior year and dropping out was very high, ‘At risk kids in a last chance scenario.’ However, Susan points out that, “The four year kids that start in 9th grade and graduate in 4 years have an outstanding graduation rate.  And, the at-risk kids who come in senior year behind – and stay 2 years – the numbers are 50 percent staying (versus 13 percent) to graduate.”
The GOAL turnover rates were disappointing, but operators and states need to make it easier to understand what working and what’s not.
Take Florida Virtual School (FLVS) and Connections Education, which was recently acquired by Pearson, for example. These online and blended learning providers have shown credible results in helping students graduate, excel in AP courses and more through online programs that connect with students on an individual level.
Kwitowski points to favorable results of COVA, the nonprofit that K12 supports in Colorado including 100 percent grad rate for incoming 9th graders.
So, in the words of Education Gladfly, “heck no” does the bad report on Colorado virtual schools prove that virtual schooling is a short-lived fad. For more, listen to the Education Gladfly Show podcast.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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1 Comment

Rob Darrow

In addition to the above thoughts, when "traditional" education began, it educated less than 50% of the student population at the time. It has taken 100 years to get to this point. In my research regarding online charter schools, there are more students who drop out of online charter schools than traditional schools. However, part of that is because students have already been pushed out of traditional schools, who have had had negative experiences with school, are behind in credits, and/or have had legal issues prior to landing in the online charter school. Every student who does succeed through online learning is one less who drops out before earning their diploma and that is one less student who has given up on education.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks Rob. Certainly need disaggregated data to understand what's going on here. Results seem to be good for high school kids that sign up for online high school, but for seniors that are behind and looking for an easy credit do much less well.

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