Tom Luna’s campaign to trade teachers for technology made the front page of today’s New York Times, but he may come to rue the publicity.
The state superintendent was quoted in an article by education reporter Trip Gabriel headlined “More Pupils Are Learning Online, Fueling Debate on Quality.” The story describes efforts by school districts and states to cut costs by using online instruction. It notes that “K-12 online learning is championed by conservative-leaning policy groups that favor broadening school choice, including Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has called on states to provide all students with ‘Internet access devices’ and remove bans on for-profit virtual schools.”
Gabriel wrote that the Idaho Legislature “rejected” Luna’s call for online class mandates (while, in truth, Senate Bill 1184 includes “a requirement for online courses needed for graduation beginning with the graduating class of 2016.”). The story continues:
… but Mr. Luna said in an interview that he would propose it this summer through the state board of education, which supports him.
“I have no doubt we’ll get a robust rule through them,” he said. Four online courses is “going to be the starting number.”
Idahoans are probably wondering how Luna says at home that a task force will work for a year-and-a-half to “study and develop plans for the implementation of online course requirements” (as Senate Bill 1184 also ordered) while he tells The New York Times that the State Board of Education will do his bidding this summer. As the first commenter on an Idaho Statesman online story about the Times coverage put it, “Now that's one way to get around both the voters and the legislature. … Hope all you legislators that backed his modified plan can see now that he doesn't plan to put up with any modifications.”
Luna, Gov. Butch Otter, and the majority of Idaho lawmakers ignored overwhelming public opposition to the Luna laws. Now it’s the State Board of Education’s turn. They need to hear examples from educators, parents, and students about why online mandates are bad for Idaho children. They need to know how the mandates – coupled with additional “flexibility” in Use It Or Lose It school funding – will kill Idaho jobs.
Already, Fruitland High School has announced that rather than replace its retiring U.S. history teacher next fall, it will move that core subject online to save money. Mind you, this isn’t a special-interest, higher-level course that smaller schools are sometimes hard-pressed to provide. It’s a key component of the high school curriculum.
In the Times article, Luna used his oft-said line, “We can educate more students at a higher level with limited resources, and online technology and courses play a big part in that.” But Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood pointed out that:
Luna’s 2010 re-election campaign had received more than $50,000 in contributions from online education companies like K-12 Inc., a Virginia-based operator of online charter schools that received $12.8 million from Idaho last year. “It’s about getting a piece of the money that goes to public schools,” Ms. Wood said. “The big corporations want to make money off the backs of our children.”
We've also begun hearing that yet another Idaho school district, Notus, may join the growing ranks of those (about 20 so far) where students attend only four days per week. The 2011 Idaho Legislature will close up shop soon, but the repercussions of its actions – and of three straight years of budget cuts – have only just begun.