Students Can Learn on Their Own Time at Utah Electronic High School Can you explain the difference between the Open High School of Utah versus the Utah Electronic High School?

kathleen webb

Kathleen Webb: Utah Electronic High School started 17 years ago to provide alternative ways to students to earn credit. It started out primarily as credit recovery, but it was back before there really was much of a Web, and we used FTP. There just weren't the great tools then. And so we were started through Davis District; Richard Sidaway was the original principal. He was also a legislator in our state politics, and he had listened to a talk by our governor, who was then Michael Leavitt, who talked about how it was really important for Utah to figure out a way to deliver education without the cost of buildings, the brick and mortar stuff. He was a library media specialist, he was a legislator and he was challenged to be able to do something to move education forward. So he came up with the idea of the Utah Electronic High School, but he started it in Davis District, which is a large urban district in Utah, the northern part of the Salt Lake area. And he created some classes using federal grants.

Allen Griffin was actually the first designer of courses. He created a world civilization course that was the very first course brought up for the Utah Electronic High School. Since that's happened, about ten years ago, Utah started having charter schools, and since then we've had charter schools that are the brick and mortar charter schools, and the open high school as well as I think two or three other high schools have come on that are charter schools. So they're either a state charter or a district charter. But the virtual schools are state charters, meaning that they offer curriculum and credit to kids, but they use the traditional model. The open high school has chosen to design their own curriculum, and license it with the Creative Commons. Some of our other high schools use commercial vendors like to provide the content that they teach and provide services to their students. They're public high schools as well as Utah Electronic High School - but we're not funded the same way that they are, because they're funded the typical way that a school is funded in Utah. And we just get line item funding.

After we grew from Davis District, we were brought in to the state office and became the State Virtual High School. We get line item funding from the legislature and so it's not based on how many kids we serve, per say; they just give us an amount and then we provide the services to as many kids as we can afford with that funding.

Our mission is different in that we're not a regular public high school even though we're an accredited high school. The difference is they are charter schools and they are calendar based and they get funding based on the way that non-public schools get funded. We're an alternative way to deliver education, and we're not calendar-based, so a student can start a class in June and finish the next March, and that class could be a first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter. So we're very flexible because we're not tied to the funding model of the regular schools. We're able to offer services to kids not based on the calendar. Do you work in traditional brick and mortar school districts, or is there a significant online component?

Cory Little: It's not significant yet, but we have started an online component. A lot of the districts in Utah have as a result of legislation last year where, if we didn't, then a lot of our funding would be going to the online schools and more than we actually get for the students. So in an effort to try and not only control costs, but also to maybe have a better hand in completion rates and tracking how they're doing in a course and things like that, we are building out online offerings in districts. We have a consortium of districts that had tried it this year for the first time, and we're pulling resources and borrowing courses from Electronic High School, modifying those, or from other areas, and putting them out there. Are most of your colleagues anxious to embrace open education, or are there some serious holdouts?

Allen Arco: It's very interesting because as I started this venture and as meetings started the first part of this year with different areas of expertise, going to give a little spiel to the teachers, because we feel with the way the law is in Utah right now, that a good portion of teachers' time in the next few years could be taken up by teaching online courses instead of traditional courses. And most were very, very open to it. Some have moved in there, some have wanted to actually get online material for their live classes, but with one group in specific, I didn't know if I was going to make it out of the room alive.

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