At least 11 new online schools will serve students next year
At least 11 school districts in Idaho will start or continue their new online schools next year, according to figures from the State Department of Education.
E-learning programs have popped up in public schools this school year with the aim of educating children remotely in the midst of a pandemic. In January, a handful of districts signaled their intention to let their online programs continue after the pandemic.
The latest figures from the SDE show which districts have taken steps to do so, including three with new online schools slated for 2021-2022:
- The Boise Online School in the Boise School District will serve both elementary and high school learners across the district.
- The Lakeland Online Academy in the Lakeland District will serve local students in Kindergarten to Grade 12, according to information from the SDE and the district website.
- The Madison Elementary Online School in the Madison School District will expand existing online programs for local high school students to students in Grades 4-6.
Each of these districts, which have provided e-learning in various forms during the pandemic, joins at least eight others who have already launched online schools in response to COVID-19 – and plan to maintain them next school year. These include:
The increase in online offerings marks a shift in the state’s virtual K-12 landscape. Online schools generally operate as charter schools in Idaho. An influx of thousands of students into the Oneida School District Idaho Home Learning Academy in recent years has worked against this trend.
And the pandemic has exacerbated it, as more districts across the state expand their offerings online.
“It’s a whole new world for us,” Blackfoot School District Superintendent Brian Kress said in January of the local demand for distance learning. At one point this school year, some 300 children had enrolled in the district’s new online school, boosting enrollment as districts across the state reported declines.
The pandemic’s assault on in-person learning that districts need were unaware, several local leaders said. Boise spokesperson Dan Hollar and Idaho Falls spokesperson Margaret Wimborne said parent interest polls were key factors in expanding distance offerings into the next school year .
Other factors are also at play, including registrations and funding. Enrollment is important in Idaho because it impacts the breakdown of the roughly $ 2 billion allocated each year for Kindergarten to Grade 12. Districts that lost students to online schools during the pandemic have also lost money, as state funding goes to public schools, whether students enroll in online learning or sign up. present in person.
Madison Deputy Superintendent Randy Lords said reality had played into his district’s decision to expand and expand online offerings: “We didn’t want to lose children.
The pandemic has also exposed a local population of home-based students who could supplement their learning with the district’s online courses, Lords said. “We can set up an online program, but provide support with a research-based program and resources to help you. “
Lords hopes the additional resources will improve learning outcomes for local home students who enroll – and for students who may not be ready to return to school in person in the fall.
Lakeland executives also increased the news of their new online school with a focus on improving learning outcomes for children who learn at home. “We believe this platform will meet our high standards for student achievement and parent expectations and provide flexibility for our families,” the tri-fold reads on Lakeland Online Academy.
Student success has been an area of focus for online schools – and their detractors – for years. The problem: Idaho’s online schools generally struggle in terms of student achievement compared to their physical counterparts.
Time will tell how the results are achieved in the new batch of district-run online schools. As new schools, the SDE will track their academic performance, from standardized test scores to high school graduation rates. Holler said Boise will track a number of additional metrics, including attendance, report cards, and student participation and engagement.
The poor performance of the state’s online school hasn’t stopped families from enrolling in recent years, including in Oneida, where local leaders have made their virtual school the largest in the state. , despite consistently low test results.
Another challenge for districts is to assess local demand and recruit teachers. Despite enrolling hundreds of students earlier this school year, enrollment at Blackfoot’s online school declined in the spring, likely due to the state’s rollout of the vaccine, Kress said. And while districts like Oneida and Snake River have opened enrollment to students statewide, others will maintain local services.
Some local leaders point to a benefit for online startups: a year of blended and online learning in districts across the state.
“Many of the teachers who currently teach online will continue to teach online next year,” said Wimborne. “We are planning around 5 teachers, who will teach combined courses.”
Enrollment at the Boise Online School is currently just 69 for elementary and 94 for high school for 2021-2022, Hollar said. The number of enrollments will determine the number of teachers the school will recruit and ultimately train for online teaching positions.
Boise’s overall enrollment was 23,857 this school year, down more than 1,600 children from the previous year, according to SDE figures.
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