Idaho passes two course online graduation requirement
Online learning policy can change quickly, and we already have a significant update to Keeping Pace 2011. As of September 2011, three states required students to complete an online course in order to graduate: Alabama, Florida, and Michigan; see Table 10 on p. 39 for additional details. But that has now changed, as we have a new state to add to the list. In Idaho, the details of an online learning requirement suggested by SB1184 (passed in 2011) have now been finalized by a task force and approved by the State Board of Education. Students entering 9th grade in 2012 will be required to take two credits online in order to graduate from high school. While the Idaho Legislature will review the rule when it reconvenes in January, it is unlikely to make any changes as the requirement was recommended in the initial legislation. Already with SB1184, students may choose to enroll in online courses without district approval, as long as the courses meet certain requirements. The ruling specifies that one course must be asynchronous, and the other can be blended. In addition, there is a process built in for students who fail their first online course.
The State Board noted in its discussion of comments received during the review process that "there is still confusion regarding the online learning requirement. Some individuals are confusing the on-line learning requirement with dual credit opportunities while others do not understand that school districts will not be required to purchase online courses if they choose to develop the course content locally, using existing staff and resources."
One element of the new Idaho rule is not evident from the rule itself, but based on the legislation and the political debates that led to the passage of the law, cost-savings appeared to be the original motivation for the online learning graduation requirement. Early versions of the bill included an online learning requirement as high as two courses per year—not the two courses across four years that was the final result.
Cost-savings as the motivation for an online learning requirement represents a major change from the rationale for online learning requirements in other states. In those states, the motivation for the requirement was a recognition that students would benefit from 21st century skills and information technology and communications literacy, and that an online course would provide those skills. That reasoning is fundamentally different than requiring online courses due to cost savings goals.
We have been ambivalent about online learning graduation requirements, because our view has always been that online and blended courses should be available to students who choose them—which is a far cry from such courses being required. A graduation requirement that is limited to one online course seems reasonable to us, if not quite in line with the student choice line of thinking. We would not, however, support an online learning requirement mandated by a state with a goal of cost-savings, which might require students to take—for example—one online course per semester. We will present our reasoning against such a requirement in a future post.