Virtual School Meanderings

February 5, 2010

Idaho Needs Our Attention

I’ve been promising a couple of friends that I would post something about this for a couple of weeks now (and I did post a quick item almost two weeks ago, see For My Readers In Idaho).  For those of you who haven’t been following what is happening in Idaho, it is time to turn your attention to that state.

According to the 2009 Keeping Pace report, the “Idaho Digital Learning Academy is the state virtual school and among the largest relative to size of state population” (Watson, Gemin, Ryan & Wicks, 2009, p. 10).  The issue before us right now, as one of my colleagues described it to me:

Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho has proposed eliminating Idaho Digital Learning Academy through phase-out over next four years – as budget cutting measure with the idea that it will be replaced by the Idaho Education Network, a broadband/videoconferencing effort with foundation and business backing.

This colleague also included the following links to provide a greater background:

Personally, I believe that the stand taken by the Governor is problematic for a variety of reasons.  Beyond Watson et al.’s assessment that the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) is proportionally one of the largest supplemental programs in the United States, I believe it is also one of the more progressive.  Over the year’s I’ve gotten to know the CEO of the IDLA, not really well, but better than I know most – almost all – of the leadership of any of the other K-12 online learning programs in the United States.  It hasn’t been because Donna is any more approachable than any of the other virtual school or cyber school leaders, it has been because Donna is about the only one that I see at other academic conferences that I attend.  Sure, I see most of these folks at the Virtual School Symposium and other practitioner focused conferences, but Donna has been the only one I see at research-focused conference.  I would submit that one of the reasons for that is because Donna and her staff at the IDLA are focused on making data-driven and research-focused decisions when it comes to the operation of their virtual school.  While this would describe many, I would hope most K-12 online learning programs; it is one thing to make decisions based on internal data that is for the eyes’ of the virtual school’s leadership and that it is, compared to making decisions based on data that has been made publicly available, in some cases vetted through a peer-review process, and presented in a public way so that those not so close to the data can provide suggestions, input, feedback, etc. – as others may see things in the data that you don’t.  Whether it was presenting at the World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education or publishing a conceptual framework in the Teachers College Record, I have always been impressed by the engagement of the IDLA in the academic community.

Similar to this notion of being engaged in the academic community, has been the partnership that has developed between IDLA and Boise State University.  It is worth noting that the e-Learn presentation mentioned above was based on work done with Kerry Rice of BSU.  Recent readers will remember that it wasn’t too long ago that I wrote that I believed BSU to be number three in my Top 8 Virtual Schooling Universities.  Long time readers may remember that IDLA CEO Donna Hutchison was the instructor of the special topic New Graduate Course in Virtual School Leadership that BSU offered back in 2008.  Simply put, the relationship that IDLA has developed with BSU over the years has provided for many of the research opportunities that I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, but also opportunities for professional development and the kind of synergy between the academic and practitioner community that should be envied by all higher education faculty interested in K-12 online learning (I know I’m envious of it).  The bottom line is that IDLA has been successful – at least in terms of its ability to meet the needs of students in Idaho in growing numbers – and it has been progressive in its approach to research and the academic community in general.

Another issue that I see with the Governor’s position is the desire to return to a “videoconferencing [system]… with foundation and business backing”.  The problem with this is twofold.  The first is that a videoconferencing system is like so 1990s.  I’m sorry to say, but the whole point of the progression of technology in education is to progress, not to regress – which is what the introduction of a technology that is from a previous generation (at least in terms of K-12 distance education) is.  The second is the notion of “with foundation and business backing” – which is I suppose the crux of the issue.  The Governor has decided that the government should abdicate its responsibility to pay for public education in the State of Idaho – at least the virtual kind anyway – and allow private interests to fund distance education.  I suppose next year we’ll be reading about how Governor Butch Otter is cutting all public education funding, and going to allow McDonald’s to run the K-12 school system in Idaho.  I’m being facetious, somewhat, because it is a slippery slope that we have seen in the health care industry.  I suppose Governor Butch Otter would be okay if it isn’t little Johnny or little Suzie, or their parents, deciding whether they want to take that AP science class, but some private sector company making a measured risk assessment to determine if they’re willing to pay for it (in much the same that private companies decide whether a person receives medical treatment, as opposed to the doctor or the patient).

In some instances, Idaho has been one of the leading states when it comes to K-12 online learning policy.  For example, last year they developed a set of K-12 Online Teaching Standards as a pre-cursor to establishing a K-12 Online Teaching Endorsement for teacher certification purposes (which would make it the second state in the US to do so, Georgia being the other).  However, this is an instance where they are just heading in the wrong direction.  While most states are enacting measure that will support the existing and even allow for the growth of additional online learning programs, The Governor is set to take Idaho in the opposite direction – and that is simply sad.  If you live in Idaho, I would suggest that you contact the Governor and your local state representative.  I’d also contact the IDLA to see if there is anything that they are working on, in which you might be able to assist.  I’m watched the “interested public” band together to fight legislative changes that would limit the cyber charter schooling option in many states.  It would almost seem hypocritical if those same individuals didn’t come together to try and fight on behalf of this public virtual school option.

Let me leave you with a letter that was sent to me from a member of iNACOL‘s advocacy committee.  In this instance, I believe that the iNACOL‘s leadership summarizes the key issues and the potential remedy that would be in the best interest of the K-12 online learning community in Idaho.

January 20, 2010

Senator John W. Goedde, Chairman
Senate Education Committee
Idaho State Legislature
State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, Idaho 83720-0081

Dear Chairman Goedde:

Thanks to your outstanding leadership and the work of innovative educators across your state, Idaho has taken its place at the forefront of K-12 online learning in the United States. As President and CEO of The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), I relish pointing policymakers toward Idaho as a state that embraced online learning early and in a comprehensive way. With multiple virtual charter schools offering a full-time online option plus one of the nation’s leading supplementary online programs, Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), connecting over 20,000 Idaho students in 40,000+ individual courses they could not otherwise take, it is no wonder that Idaho has been celebrated by the Center for Digital Education and others for its achievements in this area. And now the newly announced Idaho Education Network (IEN) intends to leverage public and private investment to ensure that Idaho’s schools have the high-speed access and connectivity tools they need to take full advantage of online learning opportunity.

That is why I was so troubled to hear that Governor Otter’s Budget recommends phasing out funding for the IDLA. I am writing today to ask your help in preserving IDLA’s funding for the sake of Idaho’s students and greater online learning future.

Since its founding in 2002, IDLA has been a primary engine for Idaho’s online learning revolution, providing a model for the nation in its ability to respond to the needs of students and school districts with cost-effective online curriculum and instruction. Idaho public schools now rely on IDLA courses to provide credit recovery, Advanced Placement, higher level math and science, foreign language and technology courses that both the state and its students need to for success in the 21st century. IDLA was one of the first K-12 online programs in the country to offer Dual Credit courses – 75 college credits available at last count – to provide Idaho students a leg up on college. As you know, IDLA is also serving as a remarkably efficient provider of professional development courses for Idaho teachers.

iNACOL admires and supports Idaho’s commitment to frugal stewardship of its citizens’ tax dollars, which in this year more than ever means finding effective ways to do more with less. However, I hope you would agree that Idaho’s investment in K-12 online learning is perfectly consistent with that overall effort, providing as it does a mechanism by which school districts can access world-class curriculum and instruction that they would otherwise simply not be able to afford. The addition of the IEN as a network and clearinghouse should mean that districts can access IDLA courses, along with other exciting synchronous and asynchronous instructional content, faster and more cost-effectively than ever before. As complementary advances in online learning infrastructure, IEN and IDLA together can catapult Idaho even further into the K-12 online learning lead in the U.S.

Other states that have invested wisely in K-12 online learning over the past decade, as Idaho has, are now exploring options for sustainable funding that reduces the need for separate annual line-item appropriations. But iNACOL always advises these states to be certain that any new approach to funding ensures that any student in the state has access to the online learning opportunity that is right for him or her – that no student be denied an AP or dual credit, foreign language, credit recovery or other course because the state’s online learning funding structure puts that course out of reach. iNACOL believes that IDLA is as essential to that rule of thumb for Idaho as online learning itself is to Idaho’s brightest future.

Susan Patrick
President and CEO

cc: Office of the Governor
State Superintendent of Education
Senate Leadership
House Leadership
Senate Education Committee
House Education Committee
Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee

A couple of others from my RSS reader who have written about this issue include:


Watson, J. F., Gemin, B., Ryan, J., & Wicks, M. (2009). Keeping pace with K–12 online learning: A review of state-level policy and practice. Evergreen, CO: Evergreen Education Group. Retrieved from

Please note that Donna contacted me after this post went live to point out that she is now Donna Hutchison,
which I have corrected in this entry. Some of her research and older blog entries use her maiden name of Vakili.


  1. […] Idaho Needs Our Attention […]

    Pingback by Statistics for February 2010 « Virtual High School Meanderings — February 28, 2010 @ 11:43 pm | Reply

  2. […] you may recall, a while ago I had posted an entry entitled Idaho Needs Our Attention – where I described potential cuts to the funding of the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.  […]

    Pingback by Albertsons Foundation Donates $100K To Online Learning « Virtual School Meanderings — August 12, 2010 @ 12:48 pm | Reply

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