February 21, 2011
Disruption is gaining steam in Idaho and Utah
In a post last week Amy Murin asked if online learning is disrupting education. Amy was referring to questions of quality primarily, but in another area—policy—online learning is poised to create a major disruption in Idaho and Utah. Although we are believers in online and blended learning, we have some concerns about recent developments, in Idaho* in particular.
The Idaho bill, known as Students Come First, is very long and has online learning provisions tucked into various sections. The most important change related to online learning is that students are required to take four online courses throughout high school as a graduation requirement.
From there, the bill becomes increasingly confusing, and part of our concern is that we have yet to find anyone in Idaho who can explain what the bill is likely to do. Two-thirds of students’ ADA funding for the online course will go to the course provider—except when a district has a contract in place that supersedes the funding following the student provision. The online course requirement applies to blended learning as well, using a definition of blended learning that is likely to lead to confusion in practice. There are other similarly confusing provisions, and if anyone involved in writing the Idaho bill truly understands what the bill will do, that person has done a very good job of hiding that understanding from everyone else.
The requirement that students take four online courses during their high school years gives us pause as well. We have been supportive of the online learning requirements in Michigan and Alabama, which were created out of the sense that students would benefit from learning the 21st century skills that usually accompany online instruction. That logic, however, applies to one class and does not extend to four classes, and the Idaho provision appears to come out of a cost-savings goal. Whether or not online and blended courses can save significant money in the near term is a topic we’ll tackle in another post. Requiring four online courses, however, is contradictory to the policy approach that we have often advocated, when we have said that online learning may not be appropriate for every student, but it is appropriate that all students be able to choose an online course or school. Going from student choice to student and district mandate turns that logic on its head.
We have not yet looked closely at the bill in Utah. At first glance it appears to benefit from being far clearer than the Idaho bill, and provides several important quality components. It will allow students to choose single courses from online providers who will be approved by the state. Much of the students’ ADA for the course will flow to the online course provider. The state will create a website in which it will make information about online providers and courses available, including “data on the performance of the online course provider’s students on statewide assessments.”
We will track the progress of both of these bills. If they both pass in form similar to their current status, it appears that we will have two laboratories of democracy from which to assess results in the coming years.
*Disclosure: One of our clients in Idaho, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, is likely to share some of these concerns as well. Other Evergreen clients, however, are likely to welcome the changes.