Idaho Education News Reports on Virtual Schools

EXCERPTS from an article originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on April 9, 2018

(UPDATED, 7 a.m., April 10 with Idaho Vision High School’s status as an alternative school.)

The more than 6,000 students enrolled in Idaho’s virtual schools perform  on an array of academic performance indicators, from standardized tests to high school graduation rates.

The online schools serve a variety of unique and at-risk students:

  • Suspended or pregnant teens.
  • Students who are bullied or who learn at varying rates.
  • Students pursuing early careers in sports, music or the arts.

Families tied to the schools praise their online accessibility, which allows students the convenience of participating from home. Virtual educators defend the schools, arguing that lower outcomes stem largely from higher percentages of struggling learners, and that newly imposed state accountability measures don’t fully consider the schools’ unique challenges.

Here’s a look at Idaho’s virtual schools:

How virtual schools work

Students enroll in virtual schools through school districts and charter schools. The Idaho Public Charter School Commission (PCSC) governs 11 of Idaho’s 17 virtual schools, though overall digital enrollment through traditional school districts has increased in recent years.

PCSC schools account for 73 percent of virtual enrollment in Idaho, or about 4,400 students, with school districts enrolling the rest (about 1,600).

Once enrolled, students gain access to certified Idaho teachers who provide help and grade assignments remotely, via the internet. Parents help teach and ensure that students stay on task.

Idaho’s school funding formula, based on “average daily attendance,” allows school districts and charter schools to receive a full measure of state funds for online learners, even though these students don’t typically attend brick-and-morter schools. These state funds cover a range of costs, from teacher salaries to laptops to annual service fees for online curriculum providers.

Virtual school measures

Fourteen of Idaho’s 17 virtual schools performed below state averages on either all or most of five key performance indicators in 2016-17.

Here’s a comparison of averages:

Idaho Reading Indicator (reading test for students in grades K-3)

  • All Idaho schools: 73 percent.
  • Virtual schools: 63 percent.

 Average proficiency on the ISAT (Idaho’s standardized test):

 

  • All Idaho schools: Math: 43 percent; English: 52 percent.
  • Virtual schools: Math: 22 percent; English: 48 percent.

Average scores on the SAT (college entrance exam): 

  • All Idaho schools: Math: 492; Reading and writing: 506.
  • Virtual schools: Math: 455; Reading and writing: 501.

High school graduation rates

  • All Idaho schools: 79.7 percent.
  • Virtual schools: 33 percent.

Idaho’s 2016-17 high school graduation rate, minus virtual school numbers, jumped from 79.7 percent to 82.3 percent, bringing the state to within 2 percentage points of the national average of 84.1 percent.

First-year college go-on rates

  • All Idaho schools: 48 percent.
  • Virtual schools: 33 percent.

Yet these numbers tell just part of the story.

Two PCSC virtual schools, Idaho Vision High School (IVHS) and iSucceed Virtual High School, posted ISAT math proficiency scores in the single digits, at 8.4 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. (IVHS is also an alternative high school, with an emphasis on serving at-risk teens.)

On the other hand, Idaho’s third largest virtual school, Idaho Distance Education Academy, of the White Pine School District, outperformed state averages on both the ISAT and SAT.

IDEA assistance principal Velvet Gutridge attributes the higher scores to mastery-based learning and in-house digital curriculum. According to Gutridge, the district develops its own online learning programs, unlike at least 12 of Idaho’s virtual schools, which contract with out-of-state, for-profit curriculum providers. Developing its own online coursework allows IDEA to better match instruction to specific student needs, Gutridge said.

“We don’t know exactly what the other schools are doing, but we are very individualized for our students,” she added.

Supporters laud virtual schooling’s flexibility

Despite the low performance of Idaho’s online schools, parents and students across the state rave about their enhanced flexibility. 

Marlese Seaver teaches her sons, Connor and Brayden, in the family basement using Bonneville Online School’s digital coursework. More one-on-one teaching has streamlined the learning process, Seaver said. 

“We don’t typically spend more than two hours a day on school work, because it’s just me and them,” Seaver said.  

Barry Gans, a 2016 Inspire Connections Academy graduate and renowned dancer, relied on the flexibility of online learning to practice dance and gain entrance into New York City’s prestigious Juilliard School. Gans posted a 3.56 grade-point average his senior year.

Online learning also provides remote access to students who are simply unlikely to attend brick-and-morter schools, said Kelly Edginton, head administrator at Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA), the state’s largest virtual school, with some 1,850 students.

“Watching a young mother earn her high school diploma, when she might not otherwise would have, says it all for me,” Edginton said.

Leaders split over virtual school accountability

The PCSC acknowledged in its most recent annual performance report that virtual schools likely serve higher rates of “at-risk, and academically struggling students than the state as a whole.”

Still, low performance last year prompted the commission to impose improvement sanctions on six of seven virtual charters up for renewal. These schools, defined as either “remedial” or “critical,” must comply with “specific, written conditions for necessary improvement,” or run the risk of closing their doors.

The PCSC also adopted a new performance-accountability framework in May 2017, focused on performance outcomes like math proficiency and high school graduation rates.

Some virtual school leaders say the PCSC’s accountability framework and renewal conditions are a poor fit.

Monti Pittman, administrator at Idaho Technical Career Academy, said he is “concerned that the framework includes measures that are different from the minimum state requirements,” according to minutes from an April 13 PCSC board meeting held prior to the implementation of the renewal conditions and performance framework.

“The challenges we face are not fully recognized in the renewal condition and are not recognized at all in the Performance Certificate,” Edginton said.

Other school-choice leaders say extra accountability is part of the broader charter school movement. Bluum’s Ryan acknowledged the difficulties tied to online education, but didn’t give virtual schools a pass on their low marks.

“Any school that has struggled to perform for three or four straight years should face the possibility of closure,” Ryan said.

While Ryan agrees that virtual schools are an alternative to students who do not succeed in a traditional setting, he worries that too many parents see them as a fix-all. Ryan urged families to carefully consider the challenges tied to online learning.

Online learning requires a strong support system in the home, said Ryan, who is a trustee on IDEA’s school board. Without it, students won’t likely succeed.

Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and Bluum are funded by the  J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader provided data and information for this story.

 

C of I English professor reflects on Thoreau bicentennial “blitz”

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Dr. Rochelle Johnson teaches students outside on the College of Idaho campus.

 

Born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau lived a full and fascinating life. Thoreau’s political writings went on to inspire future leaders in Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, and his naturalist writings and transcendentalist thought took a stronghold in American popular culture, with his books, articles, and decades of journals and essays remaining widely read, analyzed and enjoyed today.

Over the last year, Thoreau aficionados and scholars alike have gathered worldwide to celebrate Thoreau’s continued legacy in the context of Thoreau’s 200th birthday — including Dr. Rochelle Johnson, Professor of English and Environmental Studies at The College of Idaho. The renewed international interest in Thoreau thanks to the bicentennial led Johnson into participating in what she called “a year-and-a-half blitz” of Thoreau scholarship, resulting in her producing numerous essays, lectures and classes in the Treasure Valley and well beyond, including a keynote lecture earlier this month in Sweden.

“The fascinating thing about literary scholarship is that we uncover significant new understandings even of authors who have been dead and deeply studied for 150 years,” Johnson said. “All this recent work is based on new thinking I’ve been doing and on new readings of Thoreau’s life and work. We’re recovering elements of his life that we haven’t attended to.”

Johnson currently serves on the board of directors for the Thoreau Society, an organization of Thoreau researchers and admirers that hosts annual gatherings in Concord each summer and produces a quarterly newsletter and an annual journal of scholarly work devoted to Thoreau. The society also hosts special panels featured at conferences of the Modern Language Association and American Literature Association that Johnson has helped to organize over the last seven years alongside Dr. Kristen Case of the University of Maine.

Johnson’s years of Thoreau scholarship and her regular activity with the Thoreau Society led to numerous requests from the academic community for essays and presentations about Thoreau over the last year to coincide with the bicentennial. This included a collaboration with Dr. Samantha Harvey from Boise State University for a piece in Cambridge University Press’ “Thoreau at Two Hundred: Essays and Reassessments, and a forthcoming essay in “The Blackwell Companion to American Literature.”

Presentations on Thoreau also kept Johnson moving throughout the United States and beyond, including to the Thoreau Society Annual Gathering in Concord, the Modern Language Association Conference in Philadelphia, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, Bucknell University, and Lyon, France. Most recently, she delivered one of two keynote lectures at the “Uses and Abuses of Thoreau at 200,” an International Symposium in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“That talk in particular was very meaningful to me because of the way the conference was themed,” Johnson said of her time in Sweden. “I personally needed to think about Thoreau’s own grappling with what he saw as the cultural violence that’s inflicted by political abuse, and with how his work in this regard might help us now in the world we live in.”

Johnson worked toward her presentations throughout a full schedule of teaching Thoreau material throughout last fall, both at the undergraduate level at the C of I as well as with 125 adult learners at Boise’s Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning. Fall 2017 marked the first time in nearly two decades Johnson taught a class at the C of I exclusively on Thoreau, organized specifically to mark the bicentennial year. While initially contacted by Osher to teach a class on the American poet Emily Dickinson, Johnson said she convinced Osher there would be an interest in a Thoreau class.

“I was living and breathing Thoreau and spending so much time reading and researching him, so I knew I wanted to bring that to share that energy locally and mark the bicentennial here,” Johnson said. “When I did these courses, all my students were interested to learn about his work, his life, his contributions to environmental history…Even today, he’s fascinating to so many people.”

Although Johnson originally intended for her fall seminar on Thoreau to be a one-off course, she said the enthusiasm her C of I students showed for the material was significant enough that the course may return in future years. Two students who took her course, Christian Foster and Henry Vaughn, went on to serve as voluntary research assistants to continue working on Thoreau’s writings.

“The things I heard the most from my students are things like ‘Thoreau made me examine my life’ and ‘He made me wonder how to live deliberately and what I valued most,’” she said. “As a teacher, hearing that they were so moved by the material was a great feeling, totally unexpected and fabulous.”

Johnson will return to Concord this summer for the next Thoreau Society Annual Gathering and she said she has plans to continue her Thoreau scholarship as she also shifts her focus toward an ongoing biography project on American writer and naturalist Susan Fenimore Cooper. Even as the hype behind Thoreau’s bicentennial winds down, she said she expects his appeal to continue capturing the scholarly imagination, as it always has.

“He has so much that can be applied to what we face today, which I think is part of his appeal,” Johnson said. “He thought about what it means to be human on a planet that is enduring environmental change because of human pressures that can lead to a civilization collapse. He was concerned about those things, and we are too.”

Click here to read the original story of the College of Idaho page. 

 

 

Boise State University Embraces OER

The following is today’s Monday Memo from the Provost’s Office:

Dear Colleagues,

You may have read the UPDATE piece published over the weekend titled “Support for Open Educational Resources is Growing on Campus.”  If not, I ask you to take a few minutes to do so.

The support described there is an important part of a strategic campus commitment to increase the implementation of reduced- and no-cost course materials for students.  With the average total cost of traditional textbooks trending around $1,000 per year, exploring alternatives can help to increase access and academic success for students.  I’m pleased that we have as many faculty and staff engaged in this effort as we do.

OER is just one approach to reducing course material costs for students.  It’s maturing as a resource base, and we’re developing a high level of expertise in a number of campus units, including Albertsons Library, the Bookstore, eCampus, the IDEA Shop, and Learning Technology Solutions.  Still, we recognize and acknowledge that other cost-reducing approaches are legitimate and might better serve students than OER would in particular course contexts at this time.

The State Board of Education is keenly interested in colleges and universities experimenting with and adopting OER.  So much so, in fact, that both my office and attendees of a recent General Education Summit were tasked with collecting data regarding the use of OER in GEM-stamped courses, resulting in some duplication of effort.  I appreciate the patience and cooperation of faculty and department chairs in our data collection, and I want to assure everyone that part of my job is to appropriately steer statewide conversations toward all legitimate cost-reducing approaches, and not to focus exclusively on OER.

Please note that, one month from today on Nov. 8, representatives from the Open Textbook Network and experts from other universities will provide training in the use of open textbooks and related materials.  Interested faculty can learn more about this opportunity and register for the workshop on this page.

I encourage all faculty to learn more about reduced-cost options, both through opportunities like the OTN workshop and our own Bookstore’s excellent textbook adoption platform.

Thank you for your attention and for all that you do at Boise State.

 

Tony

Are you a 5-12th grade student who is making a difference through volunteering? (Awards, grants, and a trip to DC available)

Volunterring

Photo Credit: Prudential.com

Maybe you planted a garden to feed the hungry. Maybe you found a way to support U.S. troops and veterans. Perhaps you collected clothes or toys and gave them to children in need. No matter your volunteer project, we want to hear about it – in your application for the 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. 

Every middle and high school in the nation can select a local Honoree. If you are name a local Honoree, you will be eligible for state-wide recognition, a $1000 award, a silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2019 will be named. These National Honorees will receive $5,000 awards, engraved gold medallions, crystal trophies for their schools or organizations, and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice. Local Honorees who qualify can also receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Complete the application and the student/parent agreement; then, on the “certification” page, email or print and deliver instructions to your certifier (deadline: November 6, 2018).
Certifiers review applications online and select Local Honoree(s) for state-level judging (deadline: November 16, 2018).
Your application can be certified by Mrs. Karen Haines, INSPIRE’s principal, or head of a county 4-H organization, Girl Scout council, American Red Cross chapter, YMCA or Affiliate of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network.
For application and certification questions, or to request a paper application form, call 855.670.4787 or email spirit@nassp.org.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Since 1995, the program has honored more than 120,000 youth volunteers at the local, state and national level.

The National Honor Society Scholarship Application for NHS Seniors Opens on October 1!

NHS ScholarshipThe NHS Scholarship application opens October 1! This year, 600 of the most outstanding NHS seniors will be selected for $2 million in funding, with one national winner receiving a $25,000 scholarship.

Add these calendar reminders to help you and your students stay on track with their applications:

  • October 1: Applications open
    Remind your advisers to send an email announcement to your seniors in good standing.
  • October 10: NHS Scholarship webinar for advisers
    Hear from the national staff about the application and selection process, as well as tips on how to best support your students and write your recommendations.
  • November 30: One week until student application deadline
    Send an email reminder to your advisers.
  • December 7: Deadline for applications
    Send your advisers a final reminder.
  • December 14: Deadline for recommendations
    A recommendation from you (the principal), adviser, and additional faculty member is required for each application (all recommendations submitted online).

Give your seniors the chance to make their academic goals more attainable. Learn more at www.nhs.us/scholarship.

Attend Women in Engineering Day: U of I Main Campus Moscow, Idaho

Women in Engineering Day

Photo Credit: University of Idaho

Women in Engineering (WIE) Day is a free one-day workshop Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 for female high school students, grades 11-12. The event is designed to introduce students to career options in engineering and computer science.

Registration is now open for the 2018 Women in Engineering Day at the University of Idaho College of Engineering.

Participants will have the opportunity to:

  • PARTICIPATE in hands-on engineering design activities
  • EARN a scholarship toward your undergraduate degree in engineering
  • LEARN about the diversity of careers in engineering
  • INTERACT with current students, faculty and industry professionals
  • TOUR engineering labs and research facilities

The goal of the program is to encourage pre-college women to consider careers in engineering or computer science. Women in Engineering Day participants show an aptitude and interest in majoring in technical fields, and excel in school. This workshop provides the opportunity for students to explore future career possibilities through hands-on activities, exposure to current engineering students, faculty, and professionals, as well as interaction with specific engineering disciplines.

Women in Engineering Day Prerequisites

  • Female junior or senior high school student
  • An interest to learn about what engineers do
  • A desire for career that makes a real-world difference

Women in Engineering Day is limited to 80 participants.

 

How to Achieve Direct Admission to Idaho Public Colleges and Universities

University_of_Idaho_Administration_Building_-_east_side_(cropped)Direct Admissions proactively admits Idaho public high school seniors to the state’s public higher education institutions based on each student’s grade point average (GPA) and SAT/ACT score.
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A Board-approved benchmark GPA and college entrance exam score will determine a student’s admission eligibility.  Students at or above the benchmark will be pre-accepted to Idaho’s eight public universities and colleges: Boise State University, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College, Eastern Idaho Technical College, College of Southern Idaho, College of Western Idaho and North Idaho College.
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Students not meeting the benchmark will be admitted to the six public higher education institutions that offer certificate or associate degree programs: Idaho State University College of Technology, Lewis-Clark State College, Eastern Idaho Technical College, College of Southern Idaho, College of Western Idaho and North Idaho College.
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Each fall, high school seniors and their parents or guardians will be notified of their acceptance and encouraged to research the academic and professional-technical programs offered throughout the state’s community colleges and four-year institutions. Students will be required to complete an admission application to the institution of their choice as a next step in the admissions process.  Students can apply to one or more of Idaho’s colleges or universities at once, and for free , using Apply Idaho . Apply Idaho opens October 1st.
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Regardless of which letter a student receives, they still have the option to apply to any or all of Idaho’s public colleges and universities under normal deadlines and be considered alongside all other in-state and out-of-state applicants.
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More Next Steps links to explore: