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Online classes shrink to two under Idaho reform plan

BOISE – Idaho’s tech-focused “Students Come First” school reform plan originally envisioned requiring all Idaho students to take eight online classes to graduate from high school, but the state now is looking at requiring just two.

A committee of the State Board of Education is recommending two courses, one of which must be conducted at the student’s own schedule, as opposed to a live video class on a set schedule.

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna originally proposed requiring eight online classes for high school graduation as part of his reform plan that also proposes phasing in laptop computers for every high school student and shifting funds from teacher and administrator salaries to technology investments. During this year’s Idaho legislative session, the number was halved to four online classes, then left to the state board to determine, though Gov. Butch Otter has expressed interest in students taking a dozen online courses or more.

Idaho Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he supports the plan. “Understand we’re talking about a graduation requirement, so that’s a minimum,” he said. “Lots of students … may take 10 or more.”

Goedde, who served on the State Board of Education committee that settled on the recommendation, said it’s likely to win full board approval, noting that two state board members were on the committee. “My guess is it should have fairly smooth sailing,” he said.

He noted that the most any state has required, as far as online courses for graduation, is one, and only three states have gone that route. “So I’m comfortable with two,” Goedde said. “I think it’s realistic.”

Mark Browning, spokesman for the State Board of Education, said the board plans to hold seven public hearings on the proposed new graduation requirement around the state in August, then likely vote on it in September or October.

Luna is heading up a 39-member task force to implement the technology aspects of his reform plan, which also removed most collective bargaining rights from teachers and imposed a new teacher merit-pay bonus program. A successful referendum campaign put the entire package on the November 2012 ballot, when Idaho voters could decide to dump it.

On Monday, the task force heard an online presentation from education officials in Maine, which has had a laptop computer program for students for the past decade. There, however, it’s optional for schools, and only about half of the state’s high schools participate.

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