If you’re trying to keep track of all the online educational opportunities available to Idaho’s K-12 students, your efforts might lead to confusion. But if you like the notion of students having a wide array of schooling options, you’re in luck—Idaho provides plenty of them.
“You need to start by distinguishing between students who are home-schooled and those who are enrolled in an online school which may entail studying from home,” explained Luci Willits, a spokesperson at the Idaho Department of Education. IdahoReporter.com spoke with her about online instruction within the state.
“Parents who choose to home-school their students may utilize some online instruction. Home schooling is completely legal in Idaho, with or without the use of online instructional content, and parents can do this free from interference from the state government,” Willits said.
Willits added that there are no academic records kept by the state for students who are home-schooled, and that remains true regardless of whether or not the home-schooled student utilizes online instruction. “Depending on what online educational resources home-schooler parents use, they may or may not receive content that is taught by a teacher that is certified by our state,” she said.
Yet Idaho students who are officially enrolled in a state-approved online school matriculate in much the same ways as do students at conventional schools. “Students in our online schools are taught by state credentialed teachers, they take the statewide ISAT tests and we keep track of their progress,” Willits noted. Apart from the instructional delivery mechanism, she said, students in online schools are treated equally with students in classroom.
Within Idaho there are eight different online schools that are sanctioned to operate as charter schools. ICON- Idaho Connects Online School; INSPIRE Academics, The Idaho Connections Academy; Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA); Idaho Distance Education Academy (IDEA); Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA); iSucceed Virtual High School and Another Choice Virtual Charter School (ACVCS) offer all online instruction, and operate as charter schools within the state. Another charter school, Richard McKenna Charter High School, offers both on-campus and online programs to students.
In addition to the many charter schools in Idaho that deliver content online, some local school districts within the state have launched their own, district-run online schools. Vallivue School District operates the Vallivue Virtual Academy; the Bonneville School District operates both online elementary and high schools; while the Lakeland School District and the Minidoka County School District both have plans for online schools.
While the advancement of online education in Idaho has been popular with many parents and students, it hasn’t always been regarded as a welcomed development among employees of conventional school districts. Likewise, members of the Idaho legislature frequently disagree about the presence of online learning.
“The question about online learning should not be about quantity, it should be about quality,” said Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise. “In my view, the number of schools is irrelevant, unless that number undermines the quality of the collective public education system. Online learning works for some students and for others it does not. If parents choose to place their students in a full-time online learning environment or some hybrid environment, that is and should be their choice. However, there must be ample educational opportunities for students and parents who find that online learning might not be a good fit.”
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, also sees value in students having educational options that fit their particular circumstances. “There are as many shades of online learning as there are shades of face-to-face learning in Idaho,” he said. “There are some excellent choices, and they serve a good purpose. In rural districts, online learning allows students to study outside the core of what their school can offer. Online learning can also allow efficiencies for local school districts. In urban settings, online learning provides a way to allow students to focus on courses that may conflict with their school’s conventional course offerings.”
Both Durst and Goedde serve on the Senate Education Committee.