By PG Veer | Watchdog Arena
Technology has “creeped in” everywhere these days, including the classroom.
To many this is a good thing, because breaking technological barriers means that education is more accessible and also personalized.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2010, aims at showing our politicians the benefits of such a transformation because “access to high-quality, customized learning experiences should be available to all students, unbounded by geography or artificial policy constraints,” as they state in their just-released report, which looks at 2014.
This year, Idaho ranks 23rd, tied with New Mexico and Arkansas, at the lower end of the C grading. While not stellar, the classification is an improvement from last year.
Student eligibility went from a D to a B. Idaho therefore does better than Utah, which stands at number 2 overall, at providing K-12 students opportunities to do their education online, making students complete at least a class online before graduating and/or letting students enroll in publicly funded online classes without needing prior enrollment in the public system (the metrics used). Only Virginia and Florida do better.
The availability of choices dramatically improved from F to A, outranking neighboring Oregon. This means that, among other things, authorization for online classes providers has clear criteria and a definite time frame, providers can resubmit an application after being refused, and the state maintains a website showing the full-time, part-time schools and virtual charter schools.
Idaho did well at advertising the choices too, notably with radio ads about isucceed Virtual High School, showing a free alternative to regular classes. It even passed Florida on that metric.
However, there is room for a lot more improvement. Despite increasing from an F to a D for funding, Idaho still ranks lower than neighboring Utah, Nevada and Montana. Since online education is funded on student success rather than mere attendance like regular schools, more funding encourages private innovation to help students succeed.
Idaho also does poorly at delivering high-speed (at least 100 Mbps) Internet to its schools, getting an F in the report as it did in the report for 2013. However, the Legislature has addressed the problem, according to the report. HB 643 appropriated nearly $2.4 million in order to improve wireless technology in schools and keep up-to-date with a catalog of available online classes. Next year will tell if the bill has had a significant impact.
Finally, Idaho is one of the few states that hasn’t significantly improved the quality of online education – it stagnated with a C. It did not fall like Washington or Montana, but it still lags behind in allowing alternative teacher certification – by letting someone from another state teach, for example, allowing an evaluation of all teachers, online or in-class, and applying the same rules to all teachers, online or in-class.
Despite notable improvements in student eligibility and in the availability of quality choices, Idaho can still improve the infrastructures by improving the provision of high-speed Internet and by improving the certification of teachers and their evaluation, be they in class or in a virtual environment.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.