Idaho has always been classified as a rural state, 479 miles long and 305 miles wide. Idaho fits snugly between economic urban powerhouse states Washington and Oregon and more rural neighbors Montana and Wyoming. The geographic placement of Idaho creates a unique situation when providing equal education access and opportunity to all students throughout the state. Idaho’s population is comprised of 44 counties – seven urban and 37 rural – as classified by the Idaho Department of Labor. Idaho is anything but a ‘one size fits all’ state.
As time passes more people are leaving rural areas out of economic necessity such as seeking better job opportunities, education access and health care amenities. Migration out-flow data shows that rural counties have rates of out-migration – up to 17 percent annually. Though these changes mimic national trends, rural communities throughout Idaho are still active and pushing to thrive. One of the assets Idaho Rural Schools are able to access is the Idaho Digital Learning which currently is supporting 100% of the Idaho Public Schools by providing access and opportunity for students to take engaging and rigorous classes regardless of where they live or the schools that they go to. Approximately three quarters of districts in Idaho are considered rural as defined in Idaho statute. These districts, and the schools within them, struggle to retain teachers and address technology needs in order to deliver effective instruction. To support rural districts and schools, Idaho Digital Learning is able to offer solutions to the challenges rural districts face. During the 2016-2017 school year, Idaho Digital Learning served 27,717 student enrollments and offered 220 unique semester courses.
For many rural students, opportunities such as Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Credit (Concurrent Credit) courses are not available at their local school. Through Idaho Digital Learning, students currently have access to 12 Advanced Placement courses and 40 dual credit courses, each of which have been aligned and approved for college credit through an in-state higher ed institution. By leveraging these course opportunities, students can accelerate their education and lower the cost of their college degrees.
Idaho Digital Learning is also a proud partner with Idaho Career and Technical Education to provide CTE Digital that leverages online learning to provide access to CTE programs for all students across the state.Students who complete a full CTE program can test for a technical certificate and exit high school ready to enter their chosen career field. Students can also enter a college or technical program and work toward the next level of certification in their career field.
Rural school districts often are not able to hire local teachers in a particular content area either due to funding constraints or lack of available certified instructors in their region. A critical growth area for Idaho Digital Learning has been a custom solution designed to provide an instructor for classes to address this lack of rural capacity.The custom solution is a joint partnership between an individual school and Idaho Digital Learning where online classes are taken during the school day inside a proctored lab at the local school. For example, many of the small rural Idaho school districts are not able to find certified computer science and math instructors, therefore, Idaho Digital Learning is able to provide the online instructor, curriculum, and student support for their students. The content is also serving as classes taken in part, to the students experience in learning online and to prepare them for success in college and career.
Idaho Digital Learning also recently concluded a three year Rural Utility Services (RUS) grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The focus of this grant was to provide technology carts to sixteen schools throughout the state to enhance technology integration and utilization. The carts are being leveraged to provide access to direct instruction in STEM-based courses. Schools and districts receiving the technology carts can also leverage the technology to help meet a variety of student and teacher needs.
In addition to the technology carts, Idaho Digital Learning has also purchased and installed a NetLab. This technology allows students remote access to a server to complete hands-on activities needed to complete CISCO Academy courses, Cybersecurity courses, and other networking courses. Access to this technology will again provide students with equity and access to opportunities, regardless of their zip code.