Idaho Moves Toward Requiring Online High School Classes

Published September 30, 2011

Idaho’s State Board of Education has approved a rule requiring all high school students to take at least two online courses in order to graduate. After a 21-day period for public comment in October, the board is again considering the matter. If it approves the measure once more, the rule will pass to the state legislature in January 2012, said Melissa McGrath, public information officer for Idaho’s Department of Education.  

Despite considerable public debate over the matter, McGrath said, “many in Idaho are supportive because they understand it will only be two of the 46 required credits students take in high school.” 

Online education is nothing new for many Idaho families. Approximately 15,000, or 5 percent, of Idaho students currently take online courses, many through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a virtual charter school, or the Idaho Education Network, a virtual school. Online enrollment has risen every year since DLA, the state’s first foray into digital education, was established in 2002. 

Twenty-First Century Approach
Forty-eight states and Washington, DC currently provide some type of online education, and roughly 1.5 million students are enrolled in online education nationwide. 

“By 2019, research suggests an estimated 50 percent of all high school courses will be delivered online,” McGrath said.  

Learning online is critical for students to function in today’s world, says Tom Vander Ark, chair of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. After high school “every student will learn online,… whether on the job, in the military, or in college,” Vander Ark said, calling Idaho’s proposed requirement “a great idea.”

“Idaho is doing students a favor by getting them ready for 21st century learning,” said Brianna LeClaire, an education policy analyst at Idaho’s Freedom Foundation, because “all continuing training nowadays, whether for the job market or higher education, has a virtual component.” 
The new rule will not displace Idaho teachers, McGrath said, because “every online course will be taught by an Idaho-certified teacher.

Greater Access to More Classes
Beyond preparing students with technological skills, online education can expand schooling options for students, opening access to courses previously unavailable. 

“In a rural state like Idaho, online learning provides opportunities for learning that have never existed before, period,” LeClaire said. “Students living on remote ranches or on mountaintops will no longer have their learning restricted by geography.”

Earlier this year, Utah passed similar legislation, allowing students to use some state education dollars for online courses in place of traditional public school classes. 

“A Utah student can now take the best math class from one online provider, the best English class from a different online provider, and the rest of their classes from their traditional local public school,” said Derek Monson, director of policy at Utah’s Sutherland Institute. “With these new options, parents can choose the set of online and traditional classes that is personalized for their child’s individual needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses.”

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