Districts, Educators Work to Implement Online Learning Mandates
3.15.12 | With an emphasis on digital education becoming more prevalent in grades K-12, many schools across the country are looking to incorporate virtual education into their curriculum – whether by implementing accredited online curriculums like Plato Learning’s Virtual Academy, available in a number of Northwestern states, or by requiring students to take mandatory online classes before graduating, as Idaho hopes to do.
Earlier this month, Idaho state House Education Committee advanced legislation that would create an online course clearinghouse with a list of state-approved classes students could choose from to fulfill a new high school graduation requirement calling for the completion of at least two online courses. This mandate was approved under the Students Come First laws passed last year.
These laws caused a bit of a stir because some online class curriculums are offered through private vendors, and it has not yet been established who will be teaching and selling these courses to school districts. The College of Southern Idaho is one institution vying to be a vendor, but college officials have not yet applied through the Idaho State Department of Education. According to an article by Times-News reporter Julie Wootton, the ISDE could spend up to $500,000 implementing this new system next year.
Many parents and teachers were not comfortable with Idaho’s education reforms, which also limit teacher collective bargaining and allow teachers with fewer than three years of experience to compete for bonuses under a “merit pay plan.” Concerned citizens filed three petitions, each gathering over 74,000 signatures, urging the state to put the new laws to a referendum vote. These new reforms will face a test in November, which could make the legislation null and void.
It is important to note that the definition of “online classes” does not always mean students are confined to cubicles and computer screens. Idaho school districts of Twin Falls and Kimberly use a blended model, meaning a teacher is available in the classroom to assist students working online. This approach has also been utilized in San Francisco’s Flex Academy, which situates students in a room with personal partitions. Students can meet with their peers to work through difficult problems, or schedule appointments with a teacher who moderates the work they complete online.
Idaho students will have some choice in determining what kind of online classes they can take. Those who choose an online-only course through a private vendor would be able to enroll without permission from their school district. The issue of paying through the private sector has been debated, but if school districts choose to offer classes through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy – the state’s online school – they will receive a portion of the funding they normally get based on average daily attendance figures. If school districts choose a private provider, there will be a different pay scenario with a negotiated set fee.
Photo by USACE Europe District.
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