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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Idaho Digital Learning Academy

Grades 9-12 | Statewide, ID

Online Learning: Why We Chose These Schools

Idaho and three other states show the promise of online learning.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia
Robert Foster, of rural Caldwell, Idaho, added online courses to his high school schedule to make up for missing credits and graduate on time.

Our Schools That Work series explores what goes on at some of the most innovative, successful schools around the country. These range from schools with long-standing records of high performance to turnaround schools now on the road to substantially higher achievement. We visit each school to take a close-up look at its best practices and the specific challenges it faces, then we assemble a package of stories and hands-on tools that you can use to replicate some of the school's successes.

In this case, we chose not one school but a big-scale strategy -- online learning -- that's gaining steam in nearly every state in the country, not to mention internationally. Forty-five of 50 states have some kind of online-learning initiative, and the market for K-12 virtual education is growing at an estimated 30 percent per year. Check out editorial director David Markus's introduction to this Schools That Work for a broad look at the potential impact of virtual education. This package also includes a roundup of research (which is still young) on the subject.

This powerful trend has been growing for some time. Even before adding this Schools That Work coverage of online learning in Idaho, we had already taken notice and covered pioneering virtual schools in Florida, Massachusetts, and Las Vegas.

We chose to spotlight online schools in Idaho this time because the state's online-learning achievements came highly recommended to us by experts in the field. When we looked closer, we discovered that Idaho has a robust community of virtual schools, both public and charter. The state-sponsored Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), in particular, serves 98 percent of districts in the state and has a rigorous system of teacher support and evaluation that emphasizes not only academic content but also student engagement, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Plus, this beehive of online-learning activity is pollinated in part by Boise State University, which was the first university in the United States to offer a certificate in online teaching. In fact, ten years ago, the school took its graduate program entirely online. Fifty percent of the program's students, who come from around the country, are K-12 classroom teachers in brick-and-mortar schools.

There's a lot of room to grow and improve our methods of online education. If you're interested in discovering where the practice is going and how you can be part of it, we believe the schools covered here are a strong place to start learning.

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