Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Superintendent Luna Testifies in Support of Online Course Requirement

The Senate Education Committee considered the State Board of Education's proposal that students in the Class of 2016 take two credits online in order to graduate from high school. The Legislature passed a law in 2011 asking the State Board to develop a requirement for students in the Class of 2016 to take online courses before graduating from high school.

A State Board committee developed the proposed rule in the summer of 2011, which was then approved by the full Board in November 2011. The Senate and House Education Committees are considering the rule this week.

Superintendent of Public Instruction testified in support of the State Board's proposed rule in the Senate Education Committee on January 17. The following are Superintendent Luna's prepared remarks.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for your time today.

Last year, I stood before you and worked with you as we passed the most comprehensive education reform in the country. Idaho was one of 30 states to pass some form of education reform.  Still, I believe our laws were the most comprehensive and to the best benefit of Idaho students.

Under one of the bills this Committee passed last year, the State Board of Education was tasked to develop a requirement for students in the Class of 2016 to take online learning before they graduate from high school. The goal of this law is to ensure every student graduates from high school in Idaho prepared to go on to postsecondary education or the workforce, and not need remediation once they get there. To accomplish this, we must make sure Idaho students get the knowledge and skills they need in K-12 in order to be successful in life after high school.

We know online learning is a critical skill in the 21st Century – whether students go on to an institution of higher education or the workplace. The vast majority of Idaho’s colleges and universities are now offering online courses to students, especially in the beginning years.  If students are going to take full advantage of the college experience, if students want to graduate in 4 years, they will be expected to take online courses.

Just look at the College of Western Idaho. CWI President Bert Glandon said recently, “To not have computer or technology skills is a huge deficit.” Why? Because almost all courses at CWI have an interactive or web-based component. More than 30 percent of the courses offered at CWI are only offered online. Another huge percentage of courses are hybrid courses, which combine face-to-face and online learning. Boise State has reported similar numbers.

We cannot ignore these facts.  Students will be expected to learn in an online environment – whether synchronous or asynchronous – once they go on to postsecondary education.

The same will be expected of them in any workplace. Workplaces across the U.S. are asking employees to utilize virtual meeting spaces and webinars to conduct business. According to one report, e-learning training accounts for 30% of corporate training across the United States and is expected to exceed 50% soon. We have heard this from many Idaho companies – whether they are government agencies, banks or auto shops.

It is clear that next year and five years from now, we know there will be more online learning, not less. Idaho’s students must be prepared for this so they can be successful in a traditional classroom setting as well as an online environment. If they struggle with online learning, they should be able to struggle in the K-12 setting where they can get immediate assistance and remediation and master these skills before going on to postsecondary education.

For these reasons, the Legislature and now the State Board of Education have developed an online course requirement for the Class of 2016.

I think when most of us think of an online course, we think of the online course of years past where a student sits in front of a computer, drills through curriculum and takes a multiple choice test after a few weeks. That is not the online course of today. The online course of today is interactive.

In an asynchronous course, students take interactive coursework at their own pace.  It is not in real time, but a teacher is involved at all times. The teacher may record a lecture and then the student might complete the coursework on their own. If the student needs help, they can reach out to the teacher immediately, via phone or email or instant message.  Sometimes they might Skype.

MIT announced in December they are offering all of their online college courses to the public for free. Now, students in Idaho will be able to take MIT courses without leaving their school or community.

In a synchronous course, a student interacts with the teacher or instructor in real time, via video teleconferencing. The teacher can see the students; the students can see the teacher.  They can hear each other in real time and interact after hours, if necessary. The Idaho Education Network provides students with synchronous online courses.

The Governor and I recently had the opportunity to visit St. Maries High School. It was one of the last schools connected to the IEN so we went to celebrate the completion of phase one. At St. Maries, a science class of students was interacting with a professor from St. Louis University School of Medicine. He was dissecting a brain, in real time, via the IEN. Students were asking questions along the way.  He was pointing to parts of the brain and asking questions of the students. It was interactive, it was engaging. Most importantly, it was an experience these students might not otherwise have.

That is the power of digital learning. That course was a type of blended learning course, where students take some coursework digitally and other coursework face-to-face with the teacher.
All of these courses – synchronous, asynchronous, and blended – are allowed under the State Board’s proposed rule.

I have heard the same arguments against this online learning rule that I am sure you have heard. First, some will say the failure rate in online courses is too high. The most popular study cited that shows this refers to online coursework students took at Washington State community colleges and technical colleges. The fact is far too many students showed up at these postsecondary institutions not prepared to learn in an online environment, yet they were expected to take online courses. As a result, most students in the study dropped the online course and some did not come back for their second year of school at all. We cannot let this continue to happen.  We have to better prepare students before they go on to postsecondary education.

Second, I have heard people say that some students can’t learn in an online environment. To me, this is like saying some students cannot learn math or some students cannot learn science.  In fact, I think we heard similar arguments when this Legislature pushed for increased math and science requirements in 2007. The fact is we have to prepare students for the world that awaits them.  In the 21st Century, online learning is a reality.  Idaho students must be equipped for it.

This requirement will make up 2 of the 46 credits students are required to take in high school. I believe all students are capable of meeting this requirement, and I believe we have the talented teachers in Idaho to help them get there. For those students, such as those with severe learning disabilities, who do need another option, this proposed rule allows the local school district the flexibility to put them on an alternate route.

Third, I have heard that online courses will replace the teacher in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every online course is taught by an Idaho-certified teacher.  That teacher will work with the students in his/her classroom. The online classroom is not the same as a traditional classroom. It is not limited by walls or bell schedules.  The teacher and the student can be miles and miles apart. Still, the teacher is always involved.

I appreciate the process that the State Board committee went through in developing this proposed rule. They heard from experts, researched online learning and took public comments across the state. I believe the two-credit requirement is necessary for the Class of 2016. It will meet our goal of making sure every student is prepared in high school with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful after high school.

After all, our ultimate goal is not to make sure students do well while they are in school. We have to make sure they are successful outside of school, once they graduate and go on. That’s our responsibility.

Mr. Chairman, with that, I stand for any questions.

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