One piece of the debate over how to bring online learning into Idaho schools is how best to use a clock and a schedule. Idaho has two programs for digital learning in high schools, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) and the Idaho Education Network (IEN). Combined, the two programs are slated to cost close to $13 million in the next budget, though IEN’s $8 million funding comes from sources outside the state general fund.
Much of IEN’s spending goes to help more high schools have fast broadband Internet access. The IEN broadband is setting up a system in which schools can have classes run with video conferencing software. In that system, students can ask questions and interact in what feels like a regular class, but with a video screen and camera at the front. IEN currently has more than 260 students enrolled in these classes, allowing them to take college-level courses those schools otherwise wouldn’t offer. One limitation with the classes is that the teacher/student interactions have to happen at a set time, so expanding classes to different school districts with different class schedules could be difficult.
“That is a challenge that we’re going to deal with,” Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna told lawmakers Tuesday. “It is going to force our schools and districts to develop more common schedules in order for their students to take advantage of the Idaho Education Network.” Luna said coming up with a common schedule across the state is especially tough due to Idaho’s two time zones, but said he thinks a solution will be found. He said Utah reached a similar result with its online learning program. “I think the demand drove the changes so that their students could take full advantage of the offerings,” he said about Utah.
The IDLA doesn’t necessitate changing the school day for online classes. IDLA classes tend to be ones students can complete any time of day and usually take place in front of a computer screen. Lawmakers heard on Monday from a Glenns Ferry superintendent who said his high schoolers could complete many more credits using IDLA’s classes.
The two venues for online learning — IEN is often called synchronous while IDLA is asynchronous — could complement each other in the state public school system. “There’s room for both of them,” said Teresa Luna, the chief of staff of the Idaho Department of Administration, which is implementing the IEN. She is superintendent Luna’s sister. “The beauty of it is, when you’re a principal or a student or a parent, you’ve got more options to choose from.” It remains to be seen whether the state has funding for both programs. Gov. Butch Otter called for phasing out state funding to IDLA and is capping its funding in the next proposed budget. IEN is currently not relying on state funding, but Teresa Luna said it will need $3 million a year from the state after a private grant from the JA & Kathryn Albertson Foundation expires in two years.