Monday, January 16, 2012

Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools

A very interesting cover story in the NYT about the battle about technology in schools taking place in Idaho.  As I've written before, I have mixed feelings about this – it is NOT a clear-cut reformers-good, defenders-of-the-status-quo-bad story:

Last year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho's schools as a high-tech vanguard.

To help pay for these programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.

This change is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved.

"Teachers don't object to the use of technology," said Sabrina Laine, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, which has studied the views of the nation's teachers using grants from organizations like the Gates and Ford Foundations. "They object to being given a resource with strings attached, and without the needed support to use it effectively to improve student learning."

In Idaho, teachers have been in open revolt. They marched on the capital last spring, when the legislation was under consideration. They complain that lawmakers listened less to them than to heavy lobbying by technology companies, including Intel and Apple. Teacher and parent groups gathered 75,000 verified signatures, more than was needed, to put a referendum on the ballot next November that could overturn the law.

"This technology is being thrown on us. It's being thrown on parents and thrown on kids," said Ms. Rosenbaum, 32, who has written letters to the governor and schools superintendent. In her letters she tells them she is a Republican and a Marine, because, she says, it has become fashionable around the country to dismiss complaining teachers as union-happy liberals.

"I fought for my country," she said. "Now I'm fighting for my kids."

Gov. C. L. Otter, known as Butch, and Tom Luna, the schools superintendent, who have championed the plan, said teachers had been misled by their union into believing the changes were a step toward replacing them with computers. Mr. Luna said the teachers' anger was intensified by other legislation, also passed last spring, that eliminated protections for teachers with seniority and replaced it with a pay-for-performance system.

Some teachers have also expressed concern that teaching positions could be eliminated and their raises reduced to help offset the cost of the technology.


Grading the Digital School

Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Ann Rosenbaum, a teacher at Post Falls High School in Idaho, tries to engage students with questions, using the Socratic method, instead of relying on technology.

Published: January 3, 2012

POST FALLS, Idaho — Ann Rosenbaum, a former military police officer in the Marines, does not shrink from a fight, having even survived a close encounter with a car bomb in Iraq. Her latest conflict is quite different: she is now a high school teacher, and she and many of her peers in Idaho are resisting a statewide plan that dictates how computers should be used in classrooms.

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