Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr offered comments at a public hearing in Nampa on the proposed rule for online credits to be taken for high school graduation.
State Board of Education officials have been taking comment on the proposal that, beginning with next year's ninth-graders, Idaho students will be required to earn two credits via online learning in order to graduate from high school. According to the board’s proposed rule, one credit must be from an “asynchronous online course,” which the board defines as:
Asynchronous course. A course where the teacher is not in the classroom with the student during instructional periods. Communication exchanges occur in elapsed time and allow students and teachers to participate according to their schedule. Asynchronous courses do not prohibit the use of a paraprofessional or staff member other than the teacher of record being present at the physical location where instruction takes place such as a schools computer lab.
The second credit may be an online or blended course credit. Here’s how the board defines “blended”:
Blended Course. A blended course, sometimes called hybrid course, consists of a course having between 51% and 79% of the course content delivered through the use of instruction and may include models such as rotation model, flex model, or online lab model
Seven hearings were held statewide this month to take public comment. The state board subcommittee working on the rule will meet again to review these comments before forwarding the proposal to the full board. The meeting is set for 9 a.m. Thursday, August 25, in the Clear Waters Conference Room in the Len Jordan Building at 650 W. State St., Boise
Here are Cyr's comments, as prepared:
Members of the board, I’m Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association. Before taking this position on August 1st, I taught 28 years in the Moscow, Idaho, schools. Most recently, I was a teacher and media specialist at Moscow High School. My background also includes teaching computer skills. Like most Idaho educators, I recognize the value of technology and online education, but our members – who represent the majority of Idaho’s classroom teachers and many paraprofessionals – have serious reservations about several aspects of the proposed rule changes to IDPA 08.02.03 as they relate to online credit requirements for Idaho students.
To our knowledge, this proposal will make Idaho among the first states to mandate online courses for high school graduation. There is no question that our students need to be able to learn in an online environment. But in 2011, most Idaho educators and students are already implementing online learning without a mandate, and others are joining in every year.
That doesn’t mean students automatically know how to learn effectively and safely. We understand that at your June 29 subcommittee meeting, there was universal agreement that an Internet safety and digital citizenship class would benefit all students, but that there was no consensus on how or when to offer it. We ask you to revisit this very good idea. If Idaho students had access to a blended digital citizenship/Internet safety course, it would serve the dual purpose of being sure that students know how to effectively learn online while giving them the skills for how to be safe, smart, and civil on the Internet. This is the sort of practical reform on which most Idahoans can agree!
We have several questions about definitions for asynchronous courses. For one, we are concerned about the rule stating, in part, that “asynchronous courses do not prohibit the use of a paraprofessional or staff member other than the teacher of record being present at the physical location where instruction takes place such as a schools computer lab.” The technology task force has heard from experts in Maine and Oregon who say that instead of reducing the need for qualified teachers in the room, technology makes teachers more important than ever. What research do you have regarding student learning when certified teachers are replaced with paraprofessionals, and will you share that research?
A common complaint from Idaho students who have taken asynchronous classes is the lack of timely feedback or help from instructors. What is the plan for assuring that students who need additional help have timely access to a certified teacher with content expertise?
The proposed rules also seem to show preferential treatment for asynchronous credits, allowing options for students who take and fail to pass an asynchronous online course. There do not appear to be options like this for students who take and fail a synchronous online course. What happens if a student fails a synchronous online course?
For that matter, why did the board determine that students need to take both an asynchronous and a synchronous online course? Does research show one form to be superior to the other? Is one more effective for high-school aged learners than the other? Where is the research to support this decision?
Rule 007.11 includes definitions for Blended Course, Flex Model, Online Lab Model, and Rotation Model. They are needlessly confusing, and school leaders now have many questions about how the various models and the origin points of classes will affect their funding. As I already mentioned, Idaho educators are already creating blended classes without mandates. This proposed rule seems unnecessarily restrictive and prescriptive, limits local control and stifles educators’ creativity and expertise to design classes that meet curriculum standards.
We are pleased that the state board listened to Idahoans and severely limited the proposed number of online credits to two from the eight originally proposed last winter. However, we are disappointed that the board chose not to schedule a public hearing for this important proposal in our state’s two largest districts. If you had, you might have heard from students and parents who strongly oppose the idea of being forced to choose an online course if it will mean missing a class taught by an award-winning teacher.
A final point: Now that the proposed online course requirement is for two credits, doesn’t that lessen if not eliminate the immediate need for expensive one-on-one mobile computing devices that will so seriously affect school budgets starting next year? If Idaho must mandate two online credits, couldn’t students complete them (as many students do now) on a home computer or in a school computer lab? One-on-one mobile computing presents many exciting opportunities for Idaho students, but local districts should be free – as they were in Canby, Oregon, — to determine the pace of implementing these programs and purchases. The one-on-one requirements will squelch local control as districts scramble to stretch scarce dollars while meeting the demands of these new mandates.
Time doesn’t allow us to go into additional points raised by these proposals, but we hope you will consider our comments and others you’re hearing around the state as you finalize the proposed rules. Thank you for providing us with the opportunity to express our evaluation of these proposals.