Rethinking K-12 Education

The challenge of educating children during the COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rethink K-12 education for their children. Some parents, during the spring of 2020, gained an increased knowledge about the way their children learn best. Colorado state law provides a range of educational options to help families find an educational “fit” to best suit the needs of their children, work demands, or other special circumstances.

This new section of the website was created in 2020 to assist parents while they navigate the disruption of traditional education, but the information is still valuable. Parents will learn about learning pods, micro-schools, private school models, homeschooling, and the numerous Colorado public school options.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students enrolled in public or private schools may be required to participate in some remote learning. Or, families may choose a long-term remote option offered by the school because of health concerns. Even though learning is taking place at home, neither situation, under state law, is considered homeschooling. Remote learning may vary from classroom to classroom. Generally, remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic is different from the online instruction provided by an online school.

Often parents need enrichment activities to supplement their children’s remote program. See our resource section for helpful enrichment activities for grades K-8.The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has also provided some resources for families to navigate learning at home during the pandemic.

Learning pods have emerged as an option for parents to provide their children with structure and support while participating in remote learning. Some parents need someone else to supervise their children during the day and/or to provide their children with socialization opportunities and enrichment activities. Learning pods are made up of small groups of students who are enrolled in public or private schools. Learning pods may form during any potential school closures due to COVID-19 or to serve students who, for health reasons, have opted for remote learning for the entire academic year.

Learning pods are created either by parents, teachers, private businesses, or school districts. In parent-created learning pods, the supervisor facilitates the public or non-public school’s instructional program and may also offer enrichment activities. Parents share the cost of hiring someone to supervise the learning pods or may set up a rotation schedule to share the responsibility. Because there is a growing number of learning pods, the state has stepped in and created guidance for families to followBusiness-created learning pods are created and administered by private businesses. Those who choose to start a learning pod business, create a learning pod for a small number of students or small groups of students. They provide support for remote learning, completing assignments, and sometimes a variety of afternoon enrichment activities. There are also some school district-created learning pods operating based on family need during times of remote learning.

A growing number of non-profits are facilitating learning pods to serve low-income families. Additionally, many parents are inviting at least one family, who cannot afford to pay for pod expenses, to join their pod at no cost.

More information about learning pods:

Parents in Colorado can choose from a range of non-public school options. The term “non-public schools” refers to private, independent, and parochial, schools. Parochial schools are connected to a particular place of worship but independent schools are not. Both are considered private schools. Students pay tuition to attend a private school. Sometimes scholarships are available. Neither the State Board of Education nor school district boards have jurisdiction over private schools. Colorado private schools are not required to administer national or state assessments to their students nor are they required to hire licensed teachers.

Most private schools offer an instructional program delivered in a brick-in-mortar building—but not all. It is legal for a private school to offer instructional models to its enrolled students whose learning may take place in another location. For example, parents can enroll their children in a private school, yet the students are instructed at a satellite location, online, or at home. Some private schools offer programs where students attend in-person classes for two or three days and then spend the rest of the week learning from home.

A private school option that has emerged over the past decade is private micro-schoolsPrivate micro-schools are small schools that use innovative, active teaching models with small, multi-age classrooms. They are sometimes referred to as a “one-room schoolhouse.” The micro-school paradigm allows for adaptability and personalized learning.

There is a type of private school commonly referred to as an umbrella school. Umbrella schools are private schools that offer a “covering” for families who wish to homeschool under the legal supervision of a private school, instead of following the homeschool law. Some brick-and-mortar private schools also offer the services of homeschool oversight.

A homeschool is a non-public, home-based educational program in which the instruction is provided by the child’s parent or by an adult relative designated by the parent. The Colorado Homeschool Law governs the establishment and implementation of a homeschool. Any parent who plans to homeschool should read the entire homeschool law.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some parents may choose to withdrawal their children from a public or private school to homeschool their children. In addition to the requirements listed below, the parents oversee the homeschool program and are responsible for costs associated with obtaining books, supplies, and tests. A homeschool is not under the supervision and control of a school district. Learning from home while enrolled in a neighborhood school or other public school is not considered homeschooling.

What are the legal requirements of a homeschool?

All parents who plan to homeschool should read Colorado’s entire homeschool law. The basic requirements for a homeschool program include the following:

  • Letter of Intent: Parents must provide written notification to a Colorado school district describing the establishment of a homeschool program at least 14 days prior to beginning the homeschool program.
  • Subjects: A homeschool program is required to teach the subjects of reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, history, civics, literature, science, and courses related to the constitution of the United States. The Colorado Homeschool Law does not require the use of a specific curriculum.
  • Attendance: Homeschool programs must have no less than 172 days of instruction per school year, averaging four contact hours per day.
  • Record Keeping: At minimum, records must include attendance, test and evaluation results, and immunization records. If requested, records must be provided to the school district where the notification to homeschool was filed.
  • Assessment: Academic progress must be evaluated at grades 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. Students can take a national standardized achievement test or be evaluated by a qualified person. Since students in homeschool programs do not participate in public school statewide assessment programs, any waiver during the COVID-19 pandemic in the administration of the statewide assessments does not apply to the required homeschool assessments.

What is the difference between a homeschool and learning at home?

Homeschool is a specific type of learning at home governed by Colorado’s Homeschool Law. Learning at home, however, can take many different forms. Learning from home can be

  • public school or private school;
  • blended learning, hybrid learning, or an online school or program;
  • a learning pod (parent-created, business-created, district-created, or private); or
  • private tutor who is a Colorado licensed teacher.


Parents in Colorado may also choose to educate their children at home, or at another location, by means of a Colorado licensed teacher. The licensed teacher can be either the parent or a private tutor. In this case, the requirements of the homeschool law are not applicable; however, the parent may need to contact the child’s school and fill out an official withdrawal form.

Parents in Colorado can choose from a range of public school options, including neighborhood schools, charter schools, option schools (sometimes referred to as magnet or focus schools), online schools, and innovation schools (under the Innovation Schools Act). During the COVID-19 pandemic, students enrolled in public schools may participate in more remote learning than in previous years. Remote learning at home will evolve as schools and districts gather feedback and implement new best practices. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has provided some resources for families to navigate learning at home.

What are the differences between neighborhood schools, charter schools, option schools, online schools, and Innovation Act school?

Neighborhood schools are typically district-run public schools that serve students who live within set boundaries. Colorado, however, is an open enrollment state, which means that students can select or “open enroll” into another public school in the state. Students can open enroll into other types of public schools, including charter schools, option schools, online schools or programs, or schools under the Innovation Schools Act.

Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools that enter into a charter contract in accordance with the Charter Schools Act. Students must generally open enroll into charter schools. In Colorado, a charter school is authorized by either the school district or the Colorado Charter School Institute. While charter schools are subject to the same assessment and accountability requirements of all public schools, they have greater flexibility and autonomy than traditional public schools in terms of teaching philosophy, curriculum, calendars, personnel decisions, and some financial decisions.

In 2019-2020 there were 262 Colorado charter schools serving 128,000 students, which is about 14% of the public school enrollment in the state. For a list of Colorado charter schools, see the Colorado Department of Education’s 2020-2021 List of Charter Schools. Or, the Colorado League of Charter Schools offers a tool to find a charter school in your district or by the type of program.

Option schools are tuition-free public schools that provide a special focus or educational program. Unlike charter schools, option schools are run by the district, so there is no separate state law that specifies special requirements for option schools. Option schools may also be called “magnet” or “focus” schools.

There are some exceptions, but generally, option schools do not have an attendance area and all students must open enroll into the school. The Denver School of the Arts in located in the Denver Public School District or D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School in the Jefferson County Public School District are examples of option schools that do not have attendance areas.
When an option school is also a neighborhood school, students living in the attendance area may attend the school. Students who do not live in the attendance area must open enroll into the school.

Online schools and programs deliver instruction directed by a teacher through a digital platform that provides students choice over the time and place of learning. If the online school is a public school, there is no tuition. Colorado offers online education through multi-district online schools, single-district online schools, and single-district programs. Online schools are authorized by a school district, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), or the Charter School Institute. A multi-district online school may serve students across the state. Single-district online schools and programs serve students primarily from a specific district.

Click here for links to Colorado’s public multi-district schools, single-district online schools, and single-district online programs. Colorado Digital Learning Solutions offers supplemental online courses to Colorado public schools.

The Colorado Department of Education offers parents and students an extensive amount of information about public online education in Colorado on its website.

Blended learning is a method of instructional delivery in which content is presented both remotely and in-person with some degree of student control over the time, place, and pace of instruction. Blended learning can be offered as a component of any school, or a school may use a blended learning model as its primary method of delivering instruction. There are four common models of blended learning:

  • Rotation model – a course in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion.
  • Flex model – a course in which online learning is the primary mode of student learning with occasional offline activities.
  • A la carte model – a course that a student takes online to supplement learning at a student’s brick-and-mortar school.
  • Enriched virtual model – a course in which students have required face-to-face learning sessions with their teacher of record but are then free to complete coursework remotely.

Colorado Empowered Learning (CEL) was launched in 2017 by the Colorado General Assembly through H.B. 16-1222. The purpose of this state-funded initiative is to increase equity and access in K-12 education through blended learning. For more information on CEL efforts, see the Colorado Blended Learning Roadmap.

Innovation Schools are public schools that are provided an opportunity to design and implement innovative ideas and practices and to obtain waivers from state and local policies and collective bargaining agreements that may hinder the implementation of innovative practices. Innovation schools were established by the Innovation Schools Act of 2008, which included a list of suggested areas for innovation, including (1) curriculum and academic standards and assessments, (2) accountability measures, (3) provision of services for special populations (e.g., students with disabilities, gifted students, English learners, students at-risk of academic failure, etc.), (4) issues related to teacher recruitment, training, preparation, professional development, employment, performance expectations, and compensation, (5) school governance, and (6) preparation and counseling of students transitioning into higher education and the workforce.

Any public school may apply to become an Innovation School. Groups of schools within a district may also apply to become an Innovation School Zone. Click here for a list of Innovation Schools and Innovation School Zones.