Online learning must be a component in an evolving Idaho classroom.
But teachers and school districts also must have a real say in developing an online learning component that makes sense for today’s students — and tomorrow’s employees.
With the crash and burn of Proposition 3, the Students Come First education law that received only one-third of the vote on Nov. 6, Idaho has a chance to revisit and refine its approach to online education. Let’s make the most of this do-over.
The State Board of Education essentially scrubbed the hard drive on Monday. Board members voted 7-1 to ditch the state’s existing rule — requiring students, starting with this year’s ninth-graders, to complete two high school credits online.
The State Board vote came as no surprise, not after Idahoans’ resounding vote on Prop 3. And while there was a lot more to Prop 3 than the online rule — particularly a laptop leasing plan that would have cost Idaho taxpayers some $180 million over eight years — the virtual learning was controversial in its own right. Even though state schools Superintendent Tom Luna scaled back his proposal, from eight online credits to the two-credit mandate adopted by the State Board, the landslide vote on Nov. 6 can be read only as a rejection of the two-credit online requirement.
So where do we go from here?
Not to zero.
Online learning has clear potential, and Idaho cannot afford to walk away. It isn’t just that online learning — properly delivered and adequately supported — will give Idaho high school students the ability to learn in the virtual settings that await either in college or in professional settings. Online curriculum can also enable students, especially in rural districts, to take courses that would be otherwise unavailable.
Sometimes requirements have their advantages — they can force institutions to evolve when they might not otherwise — but the voters didn’t want 115 districts shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all online mandate. So now, it’s time to find a flexible approach, a much more difficult task.
It starts with recognizing that districts have different demands — online programs may fill a need for foreign language or science courses in a smaller district, but may be superfluous in a larger district. Meanwhile, students process information differently, whether they’re in a traditional or virtual classroom; teachers and schools need to have the flexibility to help students, rather than leaving them to struggle in an online environment.
So we go back to where we have been so many times since January 2011, when Luna unveiled his three Students Come First laws. We go back to the process.
Educators have to be there on the front end, collaborating on an online curriculum.
So do businesses. One assumption is that students need exposure to virtual learning, to prepare for a workplace where they will have to process information independently and online. Fair enough. But that means potential employers need to be part of the discussion.
Yes, collaboration will take time. It always does. But if there was one enduring lesson from the get-it-done-yesterday approach to Students Come First, it’s this: Short-circuiting the process doesn’t save time. It only creates problems.
“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org.