Law & Courts

Idaho Ed. Board Votes to Require Online Classes

By Sean Cavanagh — September 20, 2011 2 min read
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Idaho is moving closer to establishing one of the farthest-reaching requirements in the country for students to take online education courses, though the measure has to clear a couple of final hurdles first.

The state board of education approved rules this month that would mandate that students complete two one-semester online classes before graduating from high school.

The basis for those rules was a law approved by the Idaho legislature earlier this year, over the objections of opponents who said it would dilute the quality of instruction by doing away with teachers in certain classes. One of the state board members is Tom Luna, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, who championed the measure before state lawmakers and the public.

The new rules now go out for public comment, and they will come back for a secondand final vote later this year, said board spokesman Mark Browning. After that, he said, the rules will be sent to the legislature for approval.

But even then, the law won’t be in the clear. Opponents succeeded in having it placed on the statewide ballot in November 2012 for a repeal vote, along with two other education laws approved this past legislative session.

‘115 Different Solutions’

Under the new rules, individual school districts would be allowed to decide what types of online courses they wanted to offer to fulfill the requirement, Mr. Browning said. Districts could draft their own content for the online courses, or have an outside provider develop it for them.

Some school systems have been using online courses for years, the board spokesman said, while others “are looking at completely revamping the way they’re doing things.” The state has 115 school districts, Mr. Browning added, “and they’re looking at 115 different solutions.”

Idaho would become one of only four states—along with Alabama, Florida, and Michigan—that require students to take online education courses to graduate, according to Susan Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL.

Idaho’s requirement, with its two-credit mandate, “is the most ambitious of any state,” Ms. Patrick said in an e-mail.

Last week, during his state of education address, Indiana state schools chief Tony Bennett proposed a plan to require students to take at least one online class to graduate. Mr. Bennett said he would leave it up to local districts to decide which classes would be available online.

In 2002, Michigan was the first to adopt such a rule: It has a requirement for a 20-hour “online-learning experience.” Alabama makes an online-learning experience one of the criteria for high school graduation. New Mexico has a similar requirement, but it gives students the option of meeting the criterion without using online educational experiences.

Contributing Writer Michelle R. Davis contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2011 edition of Education Week as Online-Learning Mandate on the Move in Idaho

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