Most Colorado students will return to school in-person this month, but a growing number of families are choosing online learning options.
Over the summer, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) agreed to fund another two years of online learning programs.
During the 2020-2021 school year, enrollment in online learning grew by 43%. The state will have to wait until the October enrollment count to see how many of those students return to traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
Overall, the number of students choosing the remote option in major school districts seems to be small. As of this week, Douglas County School District had just 385 students enrolled in the district's e-learning program. That represents about half of 1% of total students in the district. In JeffCo Public Schools, the e-learning program has 721 students enrolled, out of 82,000 students in the district, which is less than 1%. In the Adams 12 Five Star School District, 859 students are enrolled in the online program, representing about 2% of all students. In Aurora Public Schools, 724 students have opted to stay fully remote, while 319 students have chosen a flex model.
Despite these small numbers, leaders with the Colorado Department of Education say it’s important to look at ways to support all students.
“There are a lot of different variations to why a family might decide to go 100% online, and we want to know what that is and why and how it's working for those families,” said Rhonda Haniford, associate commissioner of school quality and support with CDE.
Online learning was gradually growing in popularity even before the pandemic. Colorado has about two dozen independent online schools. Before the pandemic, there were more than 20,000 students enrolled in online schools. Advocates say having more online learning options is a positive trend.
“When we see students have multiple pathways for learning, that means multiple opportunities for success,” said Tillie Elvrum, president of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool families.
Elvrum also leads a support group for parents of online learners. She said students are enjoying the flexibility and fewer distractions that online learning can provide.
Haniford said CDE is interested in learning more about how online learning is working for families. The state will be collecting more data this year on attendance and academic achievement of online learners.