As a native-Utahan and an advocate of online learning, I have been following Utah Senate Bill 65 (SB65), also known as the Statewide Online Education Program, very closely—read what Michael B. Horn wrote about SB65 here and here. One needs only to read the various blogs and message boards about the bill to realize that there are still a lot of misconceptions out there about why this legislation is needed, who stands to benefit from it, and how online learning works in general. Here are two reasons why I support SB65:

First, although Utah’s legislation allows high school students to take online courses, it currently restricts students to taking online courses only through the Utah Electronic High School. In contrast, SB65 would allow high school students to take online courses through any state-approved online course provider. This means that students would have a wider array of options so they could choose an online course that works best for them. The competition, in turn, would also incentivize online course providers to create higher-quality courses or they would go out of business.

Secondly, there are many instances when certain students would benefit from taking an online course over a traditional course. Some examples of this may include students in rural schools who do not have access to foreign language or Advanced Placement (AP) courses; accelerated students who want to graduate early; students who want to take a course their school does not offer; and students who cannot attend school during traditional hours. In these cases, students should have access to rigorous online courses that would provide them with an education equal to or better than what they would receive in a traditional course. To illustrate this point, I will describe two real-life scenarios when students in Utah public schools could have benefited from the legislation proposed in SB65:

Scenario #1: When I taught eleventh-grade English at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, UT, I had a smart and charismatic student, named Winston, who was frequently absent from or late for my first-period class—which started at 7:40 a.m. The reason for his chronic attendance problem was not due to laziness or apathy, however. Winston worked at Subway full time after school to help subsidize the meager income his mother brought home from her minimum-pay job at 7-11 convenience stores. He was often responsible for closing the restaurant at night, which meant that he sometimes did not get home from work until almost midnight—and he still had to finish his homework. As a result, waking up in time for his first-period class was often a struggle for him. Winston usually stopped by my classroom at lunch or after school to find out what he had missed and receive extra help, but he could not make up the class discussions and group projects he had missed and soon found himself falling further and further behind in his schoolwork. Eventually, it became apparent that Winston could not juggle both a full-time job and school so he decided to drop out and continue working full time.

Unfortunately, Winston’s story is not an anomaly. Under SB65, students like Winston could take their first-period class online, which would give them the flexibility to sleep in when they had worked late, and take the class later in the day when they had time. Offering Winston an online course could have potentially kept Winston in school—and, in turn, enabled the school to retain the per-pupil funds for him.

Scenario #2: When my sister, Marie, was a junior at West High School in Salt Lake City, UT, she and her friend registered to take a Latin class that the school offered as part of the International Baccalaureate curriculum. But they were the only two students at the school who had signed up for the class. Not wanting to limit the students’ academic options, the administrators assigned one of the foreign language teachers to teach the class, and my sister and her friend basically received private Latin lessons for the entire school year. Although this was a fabulous opportunity for my sister and her friend, it was a huge expense for the school. Under SB65, schools could continue to offer students a variety of foreign language and AP courses without having to pay teachers to teach just a few students.

I urge the Utah House of Representatives to vote ‘YES’ on SB65 next week to give high school students access to more rigorous online courses than the state currently offers.


  • Katherine Mackey
    Katherine Mackey