School Choice Bill in Utah

Utah is on the verge of having the best K-12 online learning policy in the country.  SB65 makes provision for multiple statewide providers and student choice to the course level.
While high schools around the country are cutting expensive courses, students in Utah high schools this fall may have access to every AP course, any foreign language, and high level STEM courses rich with computer simulations.  Assuming bill passage, students that are struggling will have several personalized options that will allow them to catch up.
SB65 encourages providers to support completion by withholding 40% of the funding until student successful finish a course. The bill expands options and creates the opportunity for students to graduate in three years.  More options, better outcomes, reduced costs—it’s a good deal for Utah students, schools, and taxpayers.
The bill reflects the recommendations of Digital Learning Now, a December report from an expert panel co-chaired by former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise.
Super-advocate Robyn Bagely of Parents for Choice in Education and Open High School organized a capital breakfast for legislators this morning.  Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute shared findings from his book Disrupting Class, co-authored with local hero Clayton Christensen.  Michael thinks online learning is an important disruption to ineffective historical education practices because it is affordable, scalable, flexible, and a mode natural for students.
Horn was great, but a panel of sophomores from Open High was the highlight for senators and representatives, and school board member.  They mentioned ten benefits of online learning:
1.      I can work ahead if I’m able to
2.      I get nearly instant responses from my teachers
3.      I get personalized support when I need it
4.      My teachers are just as excited about online learning as I am
5.      I can do all my math for the week on one day if I want to
6.      I know how I’m doing, my grades are right on the screen
7.      My parents can see my work and grades
8.      My courses are more challenging
9.      I can keep up with my work when my family travels
10.  I can work around a busy schedule
Utah has a history of innovation in education.  Utah was an early leader in distance learning with Electronic High School but the content is dated and it’s funded through a supplemental appropriation (which is not sustainable or scalable).  Utah also gave birth to Western Governor’s University, a leader in affordable competency-based higher education.   Gov Leavitt was a leader in the development of early college high schools where student can earn an AA degree with their high school diploma.  Open High School is statewide virtual high school making extensive use of open education resources.
Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Academy, and I represented the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) at the breakfast.
Utah is near the bottom of average per pupil funding in the U.S. but near the top in terms of the tax burden per capita as a result of youngest demographic distributions in the country.  School funding isn’t going to get better any time soon.  Many legislators realize that they’ll need to incorporate online learning to expand options, boost achievement, and do it for less.   Sen. Howard Stephenson, the bill sponsor, thinks SB65 fits the bill.

Tom - Speaking Engagements

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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