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Idaho school panel OKs online classes

Rule would require students to take two courses on Internet

BOISE – Despite overwhelming opposition at seven public hearings around the state, a subcommittee of Idaho’s State Board of Education voted Thursday to require this year’s incoming eighth-graders to complete two online courses before they graduate from high school.

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who serves on the subcommittee, said the rule will “start Idaho students down the road to digital education” and “provide students with job skills that they’re going to need when they enter the workforce, and with the skills to move forward in the post-secondary environment where more and more classes are being offered online.”

He dismissed the negative testimony at the seven public hearings, saying, “I don’t know the makeup of the people that testified.

“I was there for the Coeur d’Alene testimony, and without exception, every person that testified was either an educator or a former educator,” Goedde said. “And I think that is just consistent with their insistence that education reform is a bad thing.”

Only eight of the 76 people who testified at the hearings or submitted written comments supported the new rule.

The online-class graduation requirement now heads to the State Board of Education. If the board approves, it would take effect immediately as an administrative rule. It then would go before lawmakers for review during the legislative session that starts in January, at which point they could reject it or let it stand.

The class of 2016 would be the first to face the new requirement.

“I have huge concerns,” said Meridian school trustee Anne Ritter, who opposed the new rule approved on a 6-2 vote. “I think it’s too far too fast. I think flexibility would have been a much better approach.”

Under the rule, one of the two required online classes must be “asynchronous” – taught remotely, without a teacher present in the classroom with students, and with students and the teacher participating on their own schedules. The panel did vote unanimously, however, to revise the rule to remove an outright ban on the teacher ever being present in the classroom with the students during course time.

Under the change, as long as all curriculum is delivered in an online platform, the teacher of an asynchronous course could drop in occasionally to interact with students.

Goedde said after Thursday’s meeting, “I think the changes that were made today were good.”

The online course requirement is part of Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform package, which legislators enacted this year, but which faces a referendum vote on the November 2012 ballot that could overturn it. Opponents gathered thousands of signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot.

In addition to the new graduation requirement, the program shifts money from salaries to technology boosts, including phasing in purchase of a laptop computer for every Idaho high school student, and imposes a teacher merit-pay bonus system.

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