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As online education continues to gain in popularity, riding a school bus, juggling a backpack full of books and eating lunch in a school cafeteria are becoming a thing of the past for many students in grades K-12.
According to a recent cyber-school survey, more than 200,000 in grades K-12 are educated online today and the trend seems to be taking hold in East Idaho as well.
Proponents of the online education system say that it works for families by providing flexible schedules while creating student engagement that can't be replicated in the "brick and mortar system."
Detractors worry that students are not kept on task and that removing students from a social K-12 environment is not beneficial for their development. And while there are some state online schools that are tuition free, for every student who enrolls in a private cyber-school, there is a financial hit to the public education system in that area.
Fred Ball, who has been the director of the Blackfoot Community Charter School for the past six years, says he believes wholeheartedly in choices when it comes to education.
"Education is not 'one size fits all.' Different students have different needs,"
he said. "If parents feel an online education is the best option for their child I certainly support them."
Ball added that online education courses have greatly improved in just the past three years and are more sophisticated in meeting the needs of individual students.
Chad Struhs, interim superintendent of Blackfoot School District 55, said online education is unavoidable in the public schools as well.
"The state is requiring that we do more and more online learning in the public school system," he said. "We are now blending online learning with classroom teachers."
Struhs said he is a little concerned about full time online education, adding that it is not appropriate for every single student and that there is only a 30 percent success rate on most online programs. He noted, however, that online learning in early education does help prepare a student for college where online courses are more prevalent.
According to Bruce Colton, academic skills leader for online learning for an organization called Inside the School, students who could benefit from online learning for K-12 include those who are homebound with special needs, gifted and talented children, rural students, dropouts or at risk students and those who have been bullied or are pregnant. Online education has also become popular with parents who wish to home school their children.
Regardless of circumstances, both Ball and Struhs agree that "ultimately it is important for parents and students (with the help of educators) to work together to determine what is best for the student."
For more information on online schools go to: www.k12.com/Idaho