Larger classes to pay for technology: Learn more about Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna's reform plan
Jan 15, 2011 (The Idaho Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Questions about class size and how online classes will work continue to be the most frequently asked about the education overhaul that state schools Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna proposed this week.
We began dissecting Luna's proposed education-system reforms in Friday's paper.
Q: Luna says shifting money from teaching into technology will increase average class sizes in Idaho. What will be the impact?
A: Luna says the increase is just one or two students per class, and that even today classrooms have that kind of fluctuation all the time.
Larger classes will free up millions of dollars that can be applied to technology that will help students learn better and teachers be more effective.
Q: We've spent years hearing that class sizes are critical to successful students. What changed?
A: Luna says study after education study demonstrates that quality teachers and principals are more critical to success than class size. Idaho, he says, has smaller class sizes than states and countries that outperform us.
Q: Luna has long emphasized the importance of teacher-student contact time. How will technology help a teacher with a larger class build that contact time or improve instruction?
A: One example Luna cited was the clickers he demonstrated for Idaho legislators earlier this week. They allow the teacher to pose questions during a lesson for students to answer electronically; the teacher can immediately see if the students are getting the material, and go back and see which students are struggling. Teachers can easily individualize instruction based on that data.
Q: Is that the technology he's talking about?
A: It's just one example. Luna's plan will give laptops to all high school students. Beginning in 2012, the state would spend $4.7 million to outfit each new class of ninth-graders with laptop computers.
Maintenance of those laptops would eventually cost more than $9 million per year.
Luna said Idaho -- with state, federal and private dollars -- is spending $40 million on the Idaho Education Network and "not just so that we can say we've connected every one of our schools," Luna said.
Q: How will that network help kids?
A: By the summer of 2012, every high school in the state will be connected to the IEN. It is through the IEN's broadband network that students will take online courses.
Ninth-graders in fall 2012 will be required to take at least two courses online each year and will need eight online course credits (out of 48 total) to graduate.
Q: Government laptops for all? Will we need a State Department of Laptops?
A: Rather than create a government bureau, Luna said, the state would contract with a private provider. Students would be responsible for the laptop, just as they are for textbooks now, and held accountable for the computer.
"If they graduate from high school, they get to keep it," said Luna, who pointed to Maine as a model for the program.
Q: What will the online courses be and who will teach them?
A: Local school districts will decide which online courses to offer. The state Education Department will make sure the courses meet Idaho content standards and are taught by certified teachers.
Districts will have several options for content -- the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, colleges and universities, other high schools in the state or private content providers like K12, which operates the Idaho Virtual Academy charter school. Luna suggested that the IDLA and online offerings by colleges in the state would "grow big time because the demand out there is going to be huge."
Utah offers 1,100 courses a day to high school students, Luna said.
Q: Will kids take online classes at home or at school?
A: The online courses will be part of the traditional school day. The school will decide where and how to provide them. The state will pay for the mandated online classes. The classes will save money because it pays less per student for online courses than it does for in-class instruction.
"It costs less to deliver them, but the success rate is there," Luna said.
Q: So, if it's cheaper and effective, how long until more classes are offered online and fewer are taken with a teacher in the room?
A: "I don't want the perception that there's some sinister plan that someday all learning is going to be online and that we won't have schools," Luna said. "I suspect some people may accuse us of going through that. I don't think that's ever going to happen. There's always going to be a place for teachers. They are the most important component."
Q: Do Idaho Democrats agree?
A: No. They leveled some of those very complaints against Luna on Friday.
"Mr. Luna mistakenly feels that computers can replace teachers and that taking all semblance of job security away from new teachers will attract the best and the brightest young teaching talent to our state," Democrats said in a statement Friday. "He asserts that software peddled by those who contributed heavily to his campaign fund is superior to curriculum adopted by individual local school boards."
Out-of-state online education providers contributed $19,000 to Luna's 2010 campaign.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444
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