School Choice & Charters

Cyber Charters vs. ‘Multi-District Online Schools’

By Benjamin Herold — November 03, 2016 1 min read
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GOAL Academy is a charter school, authorized by Colorado’s Falcon District 49 and governed by its own board of directors.

Rocky Mountain Digital Academy is what’s known as a “multidistrict online school.” Like GOAL, it’s authorized by a public agency. Unlike GOAL, however, Rocky Mountain Digital is governed by that same public agency—Colorado Digital BOCES, which is ultimately responsible for the school.

Across the country, interest is growing in such new types of non-charter management models.

But in Colorado, as in other states, multidistrict online schools have faced some of the same problems that plague cyber charters.

Two likely reasons: The same people are often involved in both types of schools, and for-profit management companies continue to play a large role.

Colorado Digital BOCES and Falcon District 49, for example, share common board members and common administrative, financial, legal, and communications personnel.

Take Kim McClelland. She’s the executive director of Colorado Digital BOCES, where she was a driving force behind the creation of Rocky Mountain Digital Academy. She was also an assistant superintendent at Falcon District 49, where she oversaw the district’s move to become GOAL Academy’s authorizer in 2013.

In both capacities, McClelland worked closely with the leadership of GOAL and the Summit Education Group—almost all of whom had roles with both entities.

At Colorado Digital BOCES, she helped lead the push to award a large management contract to Summit, despite the company’s thin track record, GOAL’s history of poor performance, and a conflict of interest involving Ken Crowell (the founder and chief of both the school and the company).

“You have to give innovation an opportunity to thrive,” McClelland said.

Less than two years after the contract was awarded, GOAL Academy, Rocky Mountain Digital Academy, and the Summit Education Group were in disarray.

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2016 edition of Education Week

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