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Choosing a Colorado Online School for Your Child

IP-9-2011 (November 2011)
Authors: Ella Peterson, Education Policy Center Research Associate, and Pamela Benigno

PDF of full Issue Paper
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Executive Summary
The use of the Internet as an education program delivery system has increased rapidly in Colorado in recent years. The first full-time Colorado public online program began in the Monte Vista School District in 1995. For the 2011-2012 school year, 22 full-time multi-district public online schools are certified to serve students statewide. Colorado students may choose from any of the statewide programs. Additionally, 24 full-time single-district online programs serve students who reside in a particular district.

Among the 46 programs are some similarities, but many have unique features. Several programs target at-risk students or students who have dropped out of school. Some school districts have developed their own curricula. However, most school districts and charter schools contract with outside vendors for curricula and some for school management services. Most online students learn from home. Some school districts offer computer labs for students. One statewide program serves its students daily at learning centers. An increased number of programs are creating “centers” where students can have face-to-face time with teachers for conferences and tutoring. Program learning materials vary from online-only to a mix of online and printed textbooks. Other common differences among schools include class size, the amount of contact required with a licensed teacher, availability of additional supplemental programs that support learning, graduation requirements, and rigor of curricula. Most programs offer extracurricular activities and the student can participate in school district athletics.

With so many available options, it is important that parents learn about the many facets of an online school. Parents should attend an open house in person if geographically possible. Included in this Issue Paper are questions selected from another important publication, A Parent’s Guide to Choosing the Right Online Program, published by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

This Issue Paper is designed to assist parents as they navigate Colorado’s online education options, providing a basic understanding of full-time online education while also covering the following topics:

  • What is Full-Time Online Education?
  • Brief History of Online Education in Colorado
  • Definitions Related to Online Schooling
  • Questions Every Parent Should Ask
  • 2011-2012 Multi-District, Full-Time Online Program Profiles
  • 2011-2012 Single-District, Full-Time Online School and Program Profiles
  • What Does an Online School Look Like? (With longer profiles of a few programs)