Tami Pyfer represents District 1 on the Utah State Board of Education. She is a clinical instructor in Utah State University’s Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation and an educational consultant who trains faculty in the use of free, online instructional materials.
Representative Bradley Daw’s commentary extolling online education as “the new player in the education arena” (Deseret News 7/24/11) is illustrative of a common yet significant challenge to public education in Utah: a widespread lack of knowledge by legislators and the general public about what is actually happening in our schools.
Online education is not a new program made possible by this year’s passage of SB65, but rather, an option that Utah students have been using for more than 15 years. Long before the creation of the Statewide Online Education Program, high school students were utilizing online classes to make room in their schedules for orchestra, AP biology, student government, or other elective classes. Students used online education to take courses that weren’t available at their local school, or to accelerate their learning and coursework enabling them to complete college credit and earn valuable scholarships like the New Century Scholarship. Students who fell behind because of long periods of absence caused by illness or problems at home took online classes to get back on track to graduate with their class. For years, electronic schools, virtual charter schools, and online course providers have offered a host of courses to students throughout the entire state.
Sadly, because of SB65 and the Statewide Online Education Program it created, Utah students will now be limited in their use of online courses. This new program is not a “great step in helping our students be more prepared for college,” but quite the opposite. Although students will still have access to online courses as they have in the past, they will be restricted in the number of online courses they may take. In addition, they will no longer be able to use online courses to supplement their educational experience, or enhance coursework at their local high school because, under SB65, rather than having the option of taking online classes in addition to their on-campus classes, students are restricted to taking online classes instead of on-campus classes. In other words, if a student registers for an online geography or biology course, then they are barred from taking a class at their high school for a corresponding period each day. In addition to these limitations, money will now be taken from schools and sent to the online course provider – a move that could be especially damaging to charter schools.
Teachers and students have been free from the “tyranny” of traditional instructional constraints for well over a decade. Perhaps it’s now time to free students from the tyranny of uninformed and restrictive legislation.
“Special State Board meeting called for online education program” by Elizabeth Ziegler
UPDATE: The Utah State Board of Education will convene Monday in a special meeting to consider passing an emergency rule for the implementation of the statewide online education program, Public Education Online, created by SB 65. The new program is effective July 1. Not having the rule in place by this deadline would put the Utah State Office of Education in violation of state law. NEW: The State Board will also discuss redistricting.
“Two State Board proposals on Education Interim Committee agenda” by Elizabeth Ziegler
Two of the three pieces of assessment legislation the Utah State Board of Education has proposed for the upcoming session have been picked up by legislators. The draft bills are on today’s Education Interim Committee meeting agenda.
“New School: iPads and iPods in the classroom” by Elizabeth Ziegler
VIDEO: In the 2010-11 academic year, Viewmont Elementary and Kearns High School began implementing new technology as part of their classroom instruction – in the form of iPads and iPods. Watch what happens when State Superintendent Larry Shumway dropped by to see how things were going.
“Remembering WWII on iTunes U” by Elizabeth Ziegler
iTunes U is featuring one of the Utah Electronic High School podcasts this week in honor of Memorial Day. The 28-episode “Utah Veterans Remembering World War II” podcast features WW II vets talking about their experiences in the war.
“Why computer adaptive testing?” by Utah State Board of Education Member Dave Thomas
The Utah State Board of Education has led the school reform effort in Utah by advocating for a complete renovation of the Utah public education assessment system. A new innovative approach is needed. The State Board believes that this new approach comes in the form of Computer Adaptive Testing or “CAT.”