National

Idaho high schoolers must go online for some classes

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho is set to become first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate.

The state Board of Education gave the requirement final approval Thursday, despite heavy criticism of the plan at public hearings this summer.

The measure is part of a sweeping education overhaul that introduces teacher merit pay and phases in laptops for every high school teacher and student.

Proponents say the virtual classes will help the state save money and better prepare students for college. But opponents claim they'll replace teachers with computers and shift state taxpayer money to the out-of-state companies that will be tapped to provide the online curriculum and laptops.

The rule will apply to students entering the 9th grade in fall 2012. It goes before Idaho lawmakers for review in the 2012 session, which starts in January.

The education board gave the online graduation requirement its initial approval in September after heavy opposition was voiced this summer at public hearings across Idaho.

"A majority of the comments felt there should not be an online learning requirement," said board member Don Soltman during the meeting.

Schools nationwide offer virtual classes, but just three states — Alabama, Florida and Michigan — have adopted rules since 2006 to require online learning, according to the International Association of K-12 Online Learning.

To online learning advocates, the requirement seems reasonable. They say children need to be prepared for the world that awaits them after high school.

"There is still a live teacher. It may be at a distance, but that teacher is still instructing and interacting with the student," said Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a Washington-based nonprofit.

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