‘Students Come First’ in Idaho, but the Task Force Has to Do Its Homework

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Idaho is stepping boldly into the future with its “Students Come First” law. A key emphasis is technology: “the state and local school districts will make every classroom a 21st Century Classroom.” This is how they define their new classroom: “Every student will learn in … a classroom that is not limited by walls, bell schedules, school calendars, or geography” (“About the Laws“).

To this end, they’ve created a technology task force chaired by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. A topic at the top of its agenda is “one-to-one mobile computing devices in high schools” (Task Force), which they define as “not limited to a laptop. It could be any device such as an iPad, netbook, Nook, Kindle, etc.” (SCF). The group began meeting in June 2011 and will be reporting its findings to the Idaho House and Senate Education Committees by no later than January 31, 2012.

The law, at least on the surface, is enlightened. Its definition of “classroom” reflects the virtual learning dimension opened up by web technology. Its emphasis on internet-enabled personal communication devices for every high school student is a step toward a 21st century classroom.

However, as in many similar efforts to reform public schools via technology, the letdown is in the implementation, more specifically, the makeup of the task force. It’s decidedly top-heavy. Among the 39 members, only four are teachers. The rest are administrators, politicians, representatives from the private sector, etc. And despite the catchy title, “Students Come First,” no students are included.

Still, the task force could do a credible job if it does its homework. If I were to design the assignment for this group, what would I include? Here are some possibilities:

  1. How do students, P-12, currently use their personal mobile computing devices (PMCDs)? Can these uses be adapted to the new school curricula?
  2. Should the law include students in the lower grades?
  3. Would it be better to require students to purchase and use their own PMCDs? In this case, the state could subsidize purchases for students who can’t afford them.
  4. Should virtual curricula and pedagogy emphasize a specifc device (e.g., iPad2) or aim for a more generic format?
  5. Should the move toward PMCDs include provisions for subsidizing off-campus internet service for students who can’t afford it?
  6. What will the teachers’ role be in designing and implementing the new curricula? Will they be in charge and making decisions or simply following directions dictated by administrators or tech specialists?
  7. Are the schools prepared to move toward more project-based, off-campus learning activities to make the most of the new technology? That is, are they willing to put some teeth into the “student” in their “Students Come First” legislation?
  8. Are the teachers willing to actually supplant some face-to-face class time with virtual activities that students can complete anytime and anywhere?
  9. Are the teachers willing to keep up with the latest teaching and learning technologies via personal study, workshops, classes, and conferences? And just as important, are the schools willing to subsidize released time and costs for this ongoing in-service professional development?
  10. Are the schools prepared to permanently lessen teaching loads to give teachers the time they’ll need to design, develop, and maintain their PMCD curricula?

In the final analysis, the success of the task force and the “Students Come First” legislation will depend on the teacher. If it comes down to simply dumping more work on their sagging shoulders or turning them into automatons programed to follow standardized curricula designed by ed tech specialists or vendors, then the plan will fail. The implementation must consider a wide range of variables, and perhaps the most important are those that apply to the people who actually work with students day in and day out — classroom teachers. What kind of help will they need? Is the state willing to support them?

One Response

  1. Based on my experience with education in Republican Idaho, your questions appear rhetorical. “Is the state willing to support them?” No, because it would mean more taxes. Are the schools willing to subsidize…? No, because they have no money (because the state is cutting so much of the education funding, thus the “Students Come First” laws). Are they willing to put some teeth into the “student” in their “Students Come First legislation? No, because that would cost money and the legislation has very little to do with students, evidenced by our superintendent’s lack of ANY experience as an educator. I try to be positive and support 1:1 strongly, but I agree with you that in this case, 1:1 will fail (because it is not implemented properly). People will use that failure to justify further cuts in education and to dismiss real technology integration in schools as wasteful and “proven” ineffective (probably in reference to achievement gains on ISAT tests).

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