Statewide Online Education

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Utah is once again poised to lead the way, this time in education innovation. Today’s “digital natives” (our kids) are comfortable with online learning – really, with online everything. Current online learning options are broad, varied and rich – it is far more than plopping a kid in front of a computer and having them fill out a computer worksheet. As we look down the road to burgeoning class sizes (without a burgeoning budget to match), thinking outside the box is a must. Online learning can help relieve some of the strain on classroom sizes. It can also provide a wealth of opportunity to students who might typically have more limited options, such as students living in rural areas, or those in the so-called “Title 1” schools. Imagine having advanced French, or physics, or calculus available to any student who wants to take it.

Utah has already captured national attention for our efforts on SB65, the online education bill recently passed by the Utah legislature. “Utah is on the verge of having the best K-12 online learning policy in the country. SB65 makes provisions for multiple statewide providers and student choice to the course level, said Tom Vander Ark recently. “More options, better outcomes, reduced costs-it’s a good deal for Utah students, schools, and taxpayers.” Vander Ark was the first Executive Director for Education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Michael Horn, co-author of “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”, said in a recent Deseret News article: “Utah’s legislators have a historic opportunity before them right now to transform the state’s education system by prioritizing the success of each individual student, which will catapult the state ahead of the rest of the nation.”

So what does the Statewide Online Education Program do?

*It allows a student to enroll for up to two online courses for the 2011-12 school year
*There is no cost to students
*Students enrolled in a public school in Grades 9-12 are eligible
*The student and their parents are the ones to choose the courses and the providers
*This option allows students in rural areas to access additional courses not offered in their “brick and mortar” schools.
*It ends the monopoly currently held by one online provider who does not need to meet any completion benchmarks
*It introduces accountability. Online education providers will be getting 50% of the fee for the course up front, then another 50% upon completion by the students. The current provider gets $2 million upfront and does not need to meet completion goals. Current completion rates run 30-40%, with an occasional class seeing a 50% completion rate.
*The online teachers are certified, while the online courses are fully accredited and part of the public school system.
*The online classes count towards graduation and towards post-secondary goals.
*SB65 gives students the flexibility to combine their learning with both online courses and courses at their regular high school.
*Funding follows the student to the best learning experience
*Learning is personalized to fit the needs of the individual student
*Instruction is delivered as one-on-one tutoring
*Subject mastery replaces seat time
*Students can learn anywhere, anytime
*Instruction is data-driven, providing instantaneous feedback to teachers, students and parents
*Students can utilize the power and scalability of technology to customize education to better meet their academic goals and prepare them for post-secondary education, vocational and career opportunities

This bill looks to the future in innovative and tech-savvy ways. I’m proud to have supported it and am pleased that Governor Gary Herbert has signed it into law. The future has arrived. Utah is ready to welcome it.

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7 Responses to “Statewide Online Education”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    This sounds incredible!

  2. Sandy Says:

    “It ends the monopoly currently held by one online provider who does not need to meet any completion benchmarks”
    What current provider are you referring to? Electronic High School? K12? Open High School? Utah Virtual Academy? Or is it just the Public Schools in general? Don’t the students still have to be enrolled in Public School to qualify?
    I am interested in knowing the details of what this program entails.

  3. Heidi Phillips Says:

    Thank you, Holly! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Since the beginning of this school year, my children have been privileged to be enrolled in the Utah Virtual Academy. The private company, K12, has a curriculum is far superior and is more cost efficient than the education my kids would have received at the local elementary, which is ranked at the bottom of the 400+ elementary schools in Utah.

    My kids’ social skills, self-confidence, and sense of responsibility has improved since having online school at home. They are learning things at a grade level and a half above what they would have. They can move at their own pace. They can move quickly over things they already know and spend a little more time on new concepts. I love “auditing” their history and art classes. I didn’t learn that stuff until I was in college, if then. We love the flexibility. In fact, they haven’t missed a day of school. Because when they had colds, they got to rest in bed and read their books and could get their lessons on a laptop.

    The language arts classes are taught offline in wonderful books. I know I’m preaching to the choir, here, but I just want to express how pleased I am with this opportunity to make this decision for our family.

    They also have a wonderful special education program. If K12 and virtual education would have been available in the 1980s, my little brother would have learned more and would have had a better experience in school.

    Thanks again to Rep. Richardson and the members of congress who voted for SB 65. It doesn’t affect our family yet. It’s for high school students. And it’s the way of the future. I understand that Gov. Herbert may veto it tomorrow, but it’s because the funding needs to be figured out. The governor does support online education.

    I just have one more thing on my wish list. Soon, I hope that the enrollment caps for online charter schools can be removed. It’s ridiculous for online charter schools to have waiting lists. It is not limited by building space. Getting rid of the enrollment caps is the next hurdle.

    Thanks again!

  4. Bonnie Fernandez Says:

    I just called Gov. Herbert’s office, and as of !:25 p.m. Wednesday, he has NOT signed this bill into law. He is still considering a VETO!!! Please call the Governor’s office (801-538-1000) and voice your opinion.

    The UEA is out in force calling for Gov. Herbert to veto this bill. Those supporting the bill need to counter those sentiments.

    I urge everyone here to ask him to sign the bill – not to veto it! Holly has clearly stated all the wonderful things this bill will provide.

  5. James U Says:

    I’m an educational entrepreneur. I co-own a private, online high school. We have students in 22 states and three countries. In many states, we have incredible bureaucracy to cut through in order for our students to tap public funds, even though our curriculum is far more rigorous than state standards, our classes are live and highly interactive, and our mentors are highly qualified. I applaud Utah for this step in the right direction – it demonstrates some real vision.

    Utah does need to revisit its teacher certification requirements. I’m an attorney with an emphasis in Constitutional Law, and my partner is an MBA, and we have to jump through ridiculous hoops to get certified to teach high school classes in Utah. The teacher cert aspect of this is the only part that troubles me. Teacher cert needs to be seriously simplified, exemptions made for those with advanced degrees, and no longer used as a tool just to raise funds.

    James Ure
    Williamsburg Academy (wacademy.org)

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