Unrest Over Idaho Compulsory Online Education Requirements

Residents of Ada and Canyon counties in Idaho had an opportunity to voice their opinions regarding a controversial proposal that would require the state's high school students to take two online courses to graduate, writes John Funk at the Idaho Press-Tribune.

A public hearing was held at the College of Western Idaho in Nampa. Representatives from the Office of the State Board of Education, Tracy Bent and Mark Browning, took input and answered questions from concerned educators and parents.

The proposed rule would require students to take two online course credits to graduate high school. That's down from the eight required credits initially proposed by Idaho public schools superintendent Tom Luna, writes Funk.

Among the needs cited is a growing demand for technological literacy in the workforce and in higher education, which officials hope this requirement will address.

It is currently scheduled to take effect at the start of the 2012-13 school year.

Parents and educators expressed doubts, however, that this proposal is a good way to serve the state's high school students. Among concerns raised were the potential lack of immediate availability of online instructors to their students and lack of flexibility to address the needs of individual students, writes Funk.

"I do believe in the use of technology in the classroom," said Sue Darden, a teacher in the Meridian district.

"But there's no one way to help every child fulfill their potential. There is no magic bullet, or special way to teach, or any kind of program that is going to meet every single need for every single student. And doing an online mandatory class is saying that there is, and that's just not true. Those of us in education can tell you that that's just not going to work."

Parent of a Boise High School senior, Judy Poncelet, expressed concerns about the viability of teaching some subjects online. For example, science courses frequently include a hands-on laboratory component that would be difficult to reproduce online.

"How can you do biology? How could you to do dissections?" she asked. "How can you do chemistry experiments? I guess it's possible, but they certainly wouldn't be as good as the real thing."

According to a recent Statesman survey of six Treasure Valley school districts, during the past full school year, just a small fraction of students took at least one online course through their district, writes Kristin Rodine at the Idaho Statesman.

The Caldwell School District has been planning a major increase in online emphasis since before state schools Superintendent Tom Luna pitched the online graduation requirement, writes Rodine.

Officials at other local districts say that they anticipate beefing up online offerings, although serious discussion of how to get ready for new graduation requirements awaits word of what those requirements will be.

Since Luna unveiled his Students Come First plan in January, mandating online courses has been a hot topic. Luna initially called for students to take a total of eight online courses over the four years of high school, but that was soon whittled to four credits and then rendered unspecific as the bill went through revisions, writes Rodine.

The final version calls for the State Board of Education to establish online credits as a graduation requirement for 2016 but does not specify how many credits. It is currently awaiting the governor's signature.

"We've had informal talk about this, but we haven't had the time to discuss it," Boise School District Administrator of Instruction Dean Jones said. "Right now we're trying to get a handle on the new funding formula and what it will mean for the district's budget."

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
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