Online education is not new to Utah

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.

Tami Pyfer, Utah State Board of Education, District 1Representative 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.

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4 comments to Online education is not new to Utah

  • M G Durrant

    It will be damaging to charter schools and to small districts. The smaller the school or district, the less capacity they will have to satisfy SB65, and the more damage will be therefore done by depriving them of necessary operational revenue.

    Ms. Pyfer does not mention that Utah has had an online high school, Utah Electronic High School, for several years, which has operated successfully, providing coursework to Utah high school students at no cost to their schools/districts. Sadly, EHS will lose its appropriation after this year, and will be forced into the mold envisioned by Sen. Stephenson and PCE.

  • I guess it’s all in the way you view the world.

    While I agree that there are trade-offs with this new law, I’d point out that EHS offers a VERY limited set of courses (i.e. less than 50) and that this new law will expand the availability for Utah students to access literally hundreds of new course choices now. Both District Schools and Charter Schools can now offer their existing students a much broader set of courses than ever before and thus avoid losing their student enrollments to other providers.

    Our program Utah Tech ( offers classes that tech-savvy students cannot find anywhere else such as Game Design, Web Design, Flash Animation, Digital Arts, Audio Engineering, Intro to Entrepreneurship and many more. All are taught by Utah certified teachers and offer an extremely engaging, project-based curriculum that simply could not be offered consistently in either small or large school setting.

    Thanks for your article – it’s important that we all understand the trade-offs and benefits so we can make the decisions we think are best for students.

  • Tami

    My daughter has taken health and lifetime fitness from Utah Electronic High School over the last year. I have been very impressed with the quality of the classes. They are demanding in a good way, with no busy work. The health class required more writing than my daughter’s pre-IB English class last year. She reflected and wrote on many health subjects, and we had great family discussions on stress management, chronic disease, death and grief, and more. I am positive that she learned more than in a regular classroom. The Lifetime Fitness class has been equally high caliber. I think EHS is amazing. I have been telling all my friends how great it is. How much bureaucracy will be created to review and approve of the courses of other online high school providers? I am sad that EHS will be undermined this way.