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Tech task force considers different rollout for student computers

The "Students Come First" technology task force has four subcommittees: "One-to-One Governance and Instructional Integration," with the "one-to-one" referring to the goal of providing one "mobile compputing device" for every student; "Classroom Technology Integration;" "Platform, Specifics and Procurement;" and "Online Learning Implementation."

State Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, chairman of the "One-to-One" subcommittee, was the first to present his panel's recommendations this morning. They include having all schools provide face-to-face parent training as a required measure before students are allowed to take their new school-issued laptop computers home. "Let's engage the parents in this process," he said. The subcommittee also is recommending that districts establish policies for use of the computers, covering everything from Internet filtering to appropriate use; suggests an insurance fee for students to pay; and recommends a different rollout of the laptop program: Instead of going first to all 9th graders in the state, they'd go first to a third of the state's school districts, so that all high school grade levels in those districts would get them at once.

That could create problems with the new requirement for online courses, DeMordaunt noted. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he thought that would be a problem, as the state shouldn't require online courses for kids who don't yet have computers. If the state goes that route, the Legislature should change the online course requirement to phase it in in a way that matches the computer rollout, Goedde said.

Luna to tech task force: ‘The work that has been done here is historic’

After six months of meetings, lots of presentations and visits to schools across the country, the 38-member "Students Come First" technology task force is meeting this morning to hear - and vote on - the recommendations from each of its subcommittees, on how to implement new technology initiatives in Idaho schools, including phasing in providing a laptop computer for every Idaho high school student and teacher and a new focus on online learning. "The work that has been done here is historic, and it's definitely unprecedented in its scope and in its focus," said state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, the task force chairman and the architect of the "Students Come First" reform plan. "Every member of this committee brings a different background and a different opinion, but we all had the same goal, and that is to assure that we're preparing our students for the 21st century world that they'll live in."

Before beginning the subcommittee reports, Luna went over the budget request that he's prepared for public schools for next year. "There is good news in this budget proposal, because it's the first time in a number of years that we've been able to request an increase and justify it," Luna said. He's calling for a 5.1 percent increase in state funding for schools next year, including additional state funds to pay for the laptops and a new teacher performance-pay bonus plan; the Students Come First law, passed by lawmakers this year, calls for cutting teacher pay to fund those items. "This budget backfills that so that there will not be a decrease in salary-based apportionment," Luna said.

The entire Students Come First plan, which also includes removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers, is up for a vote in November of 2012 in a referendum, which could repeal it.

School reform ‘tweaks’ limited to adjustments to dual-credit program

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said at this point, there are only two "tweaks" to the "Students Come First" school reform legislation that are in the works, both involving a clause of SB 1184 that permits high school students who complete all graduation requirements by the end of their junior year to take dual-credit courses and earn college credit in their senior year at state expense, up to 36 credits. One change would clarify that those students' junior-year math courses would fulfill a requirement to take a math class in the final year of high school. The other, propose by some school districts and parents, would permit students who finish all graduation requirements the first semester of their senior year to take part in the program for their second semester.

"There could be a few changes other than that," McGrath said. "These are the only two I'm aware of that have been discussed and that we know we'll bring forward."

Hill vows that school reform ‘tweaks’ won’t affect upcoming referendum vote

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said any "tweaks" that lawmakers enact to the "Students Come First" school reform plan in the coming legislative session will be minor, and won't affect the upcoming November 2012 referendum vote on the package. "We don't want to affect the referendum," Hill said. "They had 40,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. We owe the people the right to vote on that. We're not going to sabotage that."

Hill said he's conferring with the Idaho Attorney General's office to make sure any proposed legislation doesn't affect the referendum vote. He said the possible "tweaks" would come from state schools Supt. Tom Luna and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, who sponsored the original package last year, "some small things they want to do to make it work better."

No limit on re-tries for state-funded online classes

During the "Students Come First" school technology task force meeting today, a new wrinkle emerged as far as the impact on school district finances of the new focus on online education. In response to a request from the Boise School District's business manager about how many times a district will have to fund an online provider if the student doesn't pass the course, state Department of Education official Jason Hancock said, "Essentially, right now, if a student is in a brick-and-mortar situation and they take a course and fail it, we still fund the district." He said the full payment districts will be required to make to online course providers - two-thirds of the "average daily attendance" funding the district receives from the state for that student for a class period - will be divided into two parts, with the first part to be paid to the provider on the student's enrollment in the online class, and the second only upon the student's successful completion of the class.

If a student failed, the first payment would have to be repeated if the student took the class again (it wouldn't be refunded), and there's no limit on retries.  Hancock said, "Through putting together statewide contracts with these online course providers, we can actually build into the contract certain performance criteria, so that if students are being unsuccessful in these courses, if these are not high-quality courses and an excessive number of students are failing the course, we can terminate the contract." However, the reform plan also allows students or parents to choose courses from any approved provider, not just those in the state contracts, and trigger payments from their school district.

Tech task force ponders contracts for online classes, hears tech presentations

Now that Idaho has approved a requirement that high school students take at least two credits online, officials are working on plans for a statewide contract expected to include a list of providers for districts to choose from when selecting virtual courses, the Associated Press reports. Idaho will also phase in mobile computers, such as a laptops or iPads, for every high school teacher and student while making online courses a graduation requirement under sweeping new education changes backed by public schools chief Tom Luna and the governor.

A task force aimed at helping implement Luna's plan to increase technology in the classroom met today at the state Capitol. Luna told the AP the goal is to provide schools with a list of online course providers approved and contracted by the state to offer classes to Idaho students. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner, including concerns about how school district funding will be impacted by the new online class requirement.

During the task force's lunch break today at the J.R. Williams Building across from the Capitol, members heard presentations from Discover Technology, Lorna Finman's Rathdrum-based non-profit organization that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in schools. Finman brought along her "STAR Discovery Bus," a mobile lab for teaching kids about science and math. "It can go anywhere," Finman said. She said she has another, larger bus in the works, since this one can only accommodate about 15 students at a time. "We're not asking for any money from the schools," she said. "This is all privately funded by business people."

As task force members toured the bus, which includes touchpads and work stations for kids, Dennis Kimberling told them, "The hands-on is the hook for the kids in the science and technology." Nearby, a full-sized robot named "DiscoTech" greeted people and carried on conversations; the remote controlled robot was built by kids in Discovery Technology's robotics programs, Finman said. Discovery Technology also holds summer robotics camps for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade and sponsors after-school robotics programs.

State Board sets final approval of online course requirement for Thursday

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho — Idaho would become the first state to require students to take at least two credits online under a plan headed to Education officials for final approval. The state Board of Education is expected to consider the measure at a special meeting Thursday. The board gave the online requirement initial approval in September despite heavy opposition at public hearings this summer. Trustees collected more feedback during a 21-day public comment period last month. A majority of the commenters said Idaho shouldn't require online learning, according to board staff. Schools nationwide offer virtual classes, but just three states — Alabama, Florida and Michigan — have adopted rules since 2006 to require online learning, according to the International Association of K-12 Online Learning. Idaho would be the first to require two credits online.

Public has ‘til next Wednesday to comment on new online course grad requirement

Public comments on the State Board of Education's proposed new online class graduation requirement - requiring every Idaho high school student to take two online courses to graduate - are being accepted through next Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the state board's website here. Meanwhile, the state Department of Education also is taking public comments on several other new rules related to the "Students Come First" school reform legislation that passed this year.

The deadline for those comments also is Oct. 26. They include rules requiring school district negotiations with teachers unions to be conducted in open meetings; and requiring parent input and student achievement growth to be included in teacher evaluations. Comments on those rules, plus others regarding reinstatement of expired teaching certificates and modifications to the Dual Credit for Early Completers program, can be submitted on the department's website here.

Parent-teacher group seeks input on school reform

The group behind the referendum campaign to challenge Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” reform laws is launching a new project aimed at gathering ideas on how to make Idaho schools better. The volunteer group has dubbed its new project the “Great Idaho Schools Project,” and plans to incorporate the input into a report to be issued in January and distributed to school boards, administrators, state leaders and the public.

“We want to do what Mr. Luna, the Legislature, and Gov. Otter did not do: Involve a wide array of the public in a conversation about how to build great public schools,” said Mike Lanza, co-founder of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together.  “We don’t know yet what we’ll hear from people,” Lanza said. “But we do believe that Idahoans want a more inclusive process than was employed by our elected leaders to determine the future direction of our public schools.” You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

Tech task force to examine funding quirk in reform law for online classes

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the issue that came up this week at the "Students Come First" school technology task force about funding for online classes - that a quirk of the new reform laws means that online course providers will get far more state money for providing classes to students in some Idaho school districts than in others. For example, an online provider sending a class to a high school student in Boise could tap roughly $210 for a one-semester online class from the Boise district's state funding stream, according to state estimates, while a provider sending the same online class to a student in Midvale could collect roughly $733 from that smaller district's state funding.

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna said he doesn't think the issue warrants amending the law, but he agreed today to bring the issue back next month for more discussion at the task force's November meeting.

Online class funding would vary sharply among Idaho school districts, under new laws

A quirk of the "Students Come First" school reform law's complicated formula for shifting funds from school districts to online course providers means that the providers will get far more money for providing classes to students in some school districts than in others. For example, an online provider sending a class to a high school student in Boise could tap roughly $210 for a one-semester online class from the Boise district's state funding stream, while a provider sending the same online class to a student in Midvale could collect roughly $733 from that smaller district's state funding.

Here's why: The law, under this year's SB 1184, allows students or their parents to enroll a student in any approved online class, with or without their school district's permission. Then, the provider of the online class is entitled to two-thirds of that district's state funding for the student for that class, while the district keeps one-third, to cover its costs for providing a classroom, a proctor, or other fixed costs for the student, who likely would take the online class on campus during the school day. The formula is dubbed "fractional ADA;" it would apply unless the school district has a contract with the online provider setting a different payment amount.

The complicated formula through which Idaho sends state funds to school districts based on ADA, or average daily attendance, has many factors that cause it to vary by district, however. Those include the size of a school district, to reflect economies of scale in larger districts and fixed costs in smaller districts; the distribution of students across different age categories from kindergarten to high school; and the experience level of the district's teachers and administrators, which also triggers differences in state funding.

The result: For high-school age students, state funding per ADA varies from a low of $4,334 per student per year at the Idaho Virtual Academy, closely followed by the next-lowest Caldwell School District, at $4,757 per student, Vallivue at $4,780 and Kuna at $4,789; to a high of $17,595 per Midvale high school student. The South Lemhi school district gets $17,470 per high school student; Culdesac gets $16,897. (All these figures, by the way, are based on state Department of Education finance guru Tim Hill's calculations for the 2009-2010 school year, so they're not the absolute latest, but Hill considers them a good basis for comparison.)

The state's largest school districts are on the low end for ADA. The Meridian School District gets just $4,843 per high-school student; Boise gets $5,047; and Coeur d'Alene, Lakeland and Post Falls school districts all come in just under $5,000.

The issue came up at the "Students Come First" technology task force meeting today, as state Department of Education official Jason Hancock demonstrated an example: In Middleton, an online provider would get $191 for a one-semester high school course; if the class costs more, parents would have to make up the difference. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who serves on the task force, said, "So I think if I were a provider, I would first concentrate on these districts where this credit is worth a lot more money. I wonder if you've explored the idea of a cap."

Hancock replied, "That's how the legislation reads. It's just built around essentially what an ADA is worth … and it is different from district to district." He said that's why a subcommittee of the task force is looking into statewide contracts with online course providers, to secure lower rates for smaller districts that are more comparable to what larger districts would pay.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, "We'll learn a lot once these laws are in place, and I think that's what we want to do, is learn from actual application of the laws, not make changes based on what we think may happen. … I don't think we've seen a perfect law yet."

Hill said most students are likely to take online classes for which their districts sign contracts. "None of us know how many families are going to say, 'I understand what you're offering, district, I'm just not interested. I demand for my child to go take these other classes.'"

Hancock said that provision was included in the "Students Come First" law as "another example of providing parents with more choices." He said, "Parents know best what is best for their children."

School tech task force grapples with laptop questions, online course funding

Idaho's school technology task force, charged with figuring out how to implement plans for buying laptop computers or other devices for every Idaho high school student and teacher and implementing state school Superintendent Tom Luna's "Students Come First" reform plan's new focus on online learning, is meeting today and tomorrow in the Capitol Auditorium; you can listen live here. The task force is now hearing a presentation from Professor James Basham of the University of Kansas on "Universal Design for Learning;" you can see the full agenda here.

Among things that have come up so far today: Three vendors have expressed interest in Idaho's statewide contract for the computing devices so far, as the state moves through its "request for information" phase prior to issuing a request for proposals. Also, a subcommittee of the task force is developing a request for information for a statewide contract for online courses. Approved online courses would have to be taught by a teacher with an Idaho certificate, but the teacher could be located elsewhere. Later this morning, the task force is scheduled to hear a presentation on technology and services for the deaf and blind, and discuss the controversial "fractional ADA" funding formula in the reform law that shifts a portion of a school's per-student state funding (known as ADA, or Average Daily Attendance) to an online course provider if that student chooses to take an online course from the provider.

4th District judge upholds SB 1108, IEA to appeal to Idaho Supreme Court

Fourth District Judge Timothy Hansen has ruled against the Idaho Education Association, upholding the constitutionality of SB 1108, the piece of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's "Students Come First" three-part school reform package that limits teachers' collective bargaining rights, ends an early-retirement incentive program and makes other changes. The IEA sued, saying the bill unconstitutionally violates existing contracts, in part by retroactively ending them; Hansen ruled that it imposes "substantial impairment" on existing contracts, but that it's not unconstitutional because it does so for a "legitimate public purpose," in this case, giving school boards more power in bargaining with teachers. He also rejected arguments that the bill was unconstitutional for addressing more than a single subject.

The IEA said it will appeal the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. "The bills wrongly curtail the rights of teachers, the IEA, and its local education associations, and they rob local school districts’ ability to make the best decisions for students," the IEA said in a statement. Paul Stark, IEA general counsel, said, “All involved anticipated that whether it was a win, lose, or draw, Judge Hansen’s decision would be appealed and ultimately decided by the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Education Association appreciates Judge Hansen’s expedited decision that allows the parties to have the issues presented to the Supreme Court as soon as possible. The Idaho Education Association further looks forward to the November 2012 election when Idaho voters will finally have a say in overturning the harmful education laws passed this year.”

A referendum in the 2012 general election will give Idaho voters the choice of rejecting all three pieces of the reform package; the others shift funds from salaries to technology boosts, impose a merit-pay bonus system and bring a new focus on online learning. You can read the judge's decision here, and click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho school reformers cancel visit to Microsoft in advance of big computer buy

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on how Idaho officials on a task force planning for the state's purchase of computers for every high school student have had to cancel a trip to Redmond, Wash. to meet with Microsoft officials, after concerns were raised that the trip would violate state purchasing rules. A state purchasing officer told the task force members, "Don't discuss this procurement with vendors."


State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna persuaded lawmakers this year to pass his "Students Come First" school reform legislation, which shifts state school funding from salaries to technology boosts, limits collective bargaining rights for teachers, imposes a new merit-pay bonus system and calls for new emphasis on online learning. The plan includes phasing in the purchase of a "mobile computing device" - a laptop computer, tablet, or similar device - for every Idaho high school student and teacher, using funds that now go to salaries. The entire plan is up for a referendum vote in November of 2012 to ask if voters want to dump it, after opponents gathered thousands of signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.


In the meantime, Luna is continuing with starting up the program. The task force meets through tomorrow; it has additional two-day meetings scheduled each month through December.

Tech task force to look at survey on ‘mobile computing devices’

The "Students Come First" Technology Task Force will take up funding timelines, the timelines for putting out the requests to vendors for computers, and hear from Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, on the results of a "mobile computing device" survey, as its meeting continues this morning; you can listen live here. It'll also hear a "site visit protocol presentation," then break into subcommittees for the rest of the day today. Tomorrow, the subcommittees will continue meeting from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., then the full task force will reconvene from 10:30 to 11:30, and the two-day meeting will close with an executive committee meeting from 11:45 to 1, at which the subcommittees will present their results.

Luna on canceled vendor visit: ‘They were frustrated, we were frustrated’

State Superintendent of School Tom Luna told state purchasing officer Sarah Hilderbrand, "We were invited by a vendor to go to that vendor's location" and hear from "a parade of these international experts" on online education, "to basically be their guests. We would travel at our expense, not at their expense, but it raised a lot of red flags to the point where we at the last minute canceled it. I think they understood. I think they were frustrated, we were frustrated. … How do we do the homework to make sure that the recommendations that we move forward are going to, that the water's going to get to the end of the row?"


Hilderbrand responded, "I can tell you from a procurement perspective, we discourage site visits when we are even at the beginning of the procurement process. In the last 15 years I've seen too many projects derailed by just the appearance of preferring one vendor over another."


Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, commented, "It's getting grayer all the time."


Luna said, "I've had more than one vendor make it clear to me that they are watching this very, very closely, and they'll take action" if they think they're not getting a fair shot at "providing products and services to the state." Luna said he doesn't want the task force to go to all this work, only to end up in a protracted lawsuit over the procurement process.



Tech task force members object to restrictions on contacts with computer vendors

Several committee members are raising concerns about warnings to school technology task force members to avoid contacts with computer vendors. "Certainly the members of this committee are not the experts and need to be looking to the outside community, whether it be schools or vendors or research," Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told state purchasing officer Sarah Hilderbrand. "I think you're suggesting that we put on blinders."

Hilderbrand explained that if a particular senator met with two vendors, but not with any others, that wouldn't be acceptable in the purchasing process. "We want to make sure that it is above board, we want to make sure that there isn't any appearance that we're getting certain information, but we're not talking to this vendor over here," she said.

Ed tech task force cautioned against contacts with computer vendors

The "Students Come First Technology" Task Force has opened a two-day meeting this morning in the Capitol Auditorium; you can listen live here. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna urged the members to focus on "features of a high-quality online course" and bring recommendations forward tomorrow. Now, the panel is hearing a presentation from Sarah Hilderbrand, purchasing officer for the Division of Purchasing, on the "do's and don't's" of the state purchasing process. "This is one of the most important and timely presentations we're going to receive," Luna told the group, which is making recommendations for the "Students Come First" plan of purchasing a laptop computer at state expense for every Idaho high school teacher and student. He said the committee needs to know "what kind of vendor contact you as a committee member can have, what is appropriate for vendors in their relationship with us. … I don't want there to be any gray area."


Luna said, "We've already had a couple of situations that we had to deal with because we did not understand the do's and don't's. Many of us had a trip planned to Washington (state) that we had to basically cancel, because there was too many gray areas in what we would be doing while we were there, who we would be visiting with."


He noted that many representatives of vendors are in the audience this morning, and he cautioned them to listen, too. Hilderbrand told the committee, "Don't discuss this procurement with vendors. We want to make sure everybody has the same information. … It could potentially stop the whole project if there is misinformation out there."

State board backs new online course requirement, opens 21-day comment period

Idaho's State Board of Education voted 8-0 on Friday to approve a rule requiring all Idaho students to take two online courses to graduate from high school, despite strongly negative testimony at seven public hearings around the state. One of the two courses must be asynchronous, meaning the students and teachers participate on their own schedules. The board's vote opened a 21-day comment period on the new rule, which takes effect with the graduating class of 2016, this year's eighth-graders. Click below for a full article from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Goedde: Opponents of online-course requirement just think ed reform is bad

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the vote today by a subcommittee of the state Board of Education to approve a two-online-course requirement for high school graduation in Idaho, starting with next year's freshmen (the class of 2016). The move came despite overwhelming opposition at seven public hearings around the state; the full state board will consider it in a special meeting between now and Sept. 9, and if they approve it, it takes effect immediately, though lawmakers still could reject it in January.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who served on the subcommittee, said the rule will "start Idaho students down the road to digital education," and "provide students with job skills that they're going to need when they enter the workforce, and with the skills to move forward in the post-secondary environment where more and more classes are being offered online."

He dismissed the negative testimony at the public hearings, saying, "I don't know the makeup of the people that testified. … I was there for the Coeur d'Alene testimony, and without exception, every person that testified was either an educator or a former educator. And I think that is just consistent with their insistence that education reform is a bad thing."

Online class grad requirement heads to state board, applies to next year’s freshmen

After a state Board of Education subcommittee approved a couple of changes to wording regarding students who fail online courses and alternatives for districts, the new online-class graduation requirement will now head to the State Board of Education, which will consider it in a special meeting between now and Sept. 9. If approved, it'd take effect immediately as an administrative rule; it'd go before lawmakers review during the legislative session that starts in January, at which point they could reject it or let it stand. As proposed, the committee went with requiring Idaho high school graduates to take two online courses, one of them 'asynchronous,' despite overwhelming opposition at seven public hearings around the state. The requirement applies to next year's freshmen, the high school class of 2016.

Subcommittee member Anne Ritter, a Meridian School District trustee, said, "I have huge concerns. I think it's too far too fast. I think flexibility would have been a much better approach."

Panel opts to stay with two required online courses, one asynchronous

The state Board of Education subcommittee on online learning has voted to go with two courses as proposed for an Idaho high school graduation requirement, one of them being asynchronous; there were two dissenting votes, from Meridian school trustee Anne Ritter and Vision Charter School teacher Kurt Scheffler. Now, they're debating changes in some of the definitions and details, including a proposal to adjust the rule banning teachers from ever being in the classroom with students during an asynchronous course - that change passed unanimously. It replaces the total ban on the teacher being present with students in an asynchronous course with this sentence: "An online course in which an online platform and teacher deliver all curricula." The remainder of the definition remains the same.

The panel is now debating the provisions regarding students who fail online courses and alternatives for school districts, a particular point of concern among people at the hearings.

Panel weighs ‘asynchronous’ course rule

Anne Ritter, Meridian school district trustee, called for doing away with the "asynchronous" requirement entirely, as part of Idaho's new graduation requirement for two online courses, one of them asynchronous - meaning the teacher isn't present in the classroom and students and teachers participate in the class on their own schedules. "I think the parental concerns need to be looked at," she said.

Several other committee members then spoke out in favor of a requirement for an asynchronous course, saying students will need to be able to take that kind of class when they get to college; other committee members are undecided. Andy Grover, Melba school superintendent, said, "We have about an 80 percent passing rate for asynchronous courses." Students who fail go back into a traditional class, he said. He said he saw merits to flexibility for school districts, but also saw merit to exposing students to that type of course.

Vast majority at seven hearings opposed online ed requirement as written

The subcommittee of the Idaho State Board of Education working on the online course requirement for high school graduation is meeting this morning by videoconference, with a couple of members at the state Department of Education in Boise and the rest linked in from Coeur d'Alene, Moscow and elsewhere. First up was a review of the public input received at seven public hearings around the state. About 100 people showed up, 46 testified, and 30 submitted written comments. Of the 46 who testified, only eight supported the rule as written. All the rest opposed the rule, which requires two online classes including one that's asynchronous, wanted it changed or had concerns about how it would work. Of the 30 written comments, all opposed the rule as written, raising concerns about parent choice, impact on disadvantaged students, infrastructure and more.

The subcommittee members, who include two Board of Ed members, some high school teachers and principals, a Meridian school board member and several others, are discussing changes to the proposed rule to do away with a provision preventing the teacher from being in the classroom with students during instructional periods, for the asynchronous course. SB 1184 bans the teacher from being there a majority of the time; the rule as written would prevent the teacher from being there at all during class, even for an occasional visit to the students.

State Department of Education official Jason Hancock said he saw no need for school districts to provide a teacher to be with students who are choosing to take a class from some outside, online provider. "You provide a proctor to make sure the kids aren't bouncing off the walls," he said.

Hearing pans online ed proposal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press and the Idaho Statesman: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Attendees of an Idaho Board of Education hearing in Nampa largely panned a plan to require students to take two online courses to graduate, starting with the class of 2016. Thursday's meeting was the sixth of seven public hearings on the rule passed this year by the state Legislature. Teachers and others Thursday expressed doubts about the plan. The Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/mX7NkX ) several don't want the proposal to require a course to be held without a teacher in the classroom. Former state Rep. Branden Durst, who teaches at the College of Western Idaho, says requiring online classes would add stress to students who are already under a lot of pressure. A board committee will meet Aug. 25 to review the comments and come up with a recommendation.

Statewide hearings set on new online course requirement for high schoolers

The State Board of Education has set seven public hearings around the state on Idaho's proposed new online learning requirement for high school graduation, which, as proposed, would require two credits, one of which must be an "asynchronous" course, defined as one in which the teacher is not in the classroom with the student during instructional periods and both students and teachers participate in the course on their own schedules, rather than at a fixed time. The hearings start today in Idaho Falls from 4-8 p.m. at University Place; they continue Wednesday in Pocatello, Aug. 15 in Coeur d'Alene, Aug. 16 in Moscow, Aug. 17 in Fruitland, Aug. 18 in Nampa and Aug. 22 in Twin Falls. You can see the full schedule here.

"Our intent is to get all over the state as much as possible and get as much input as we can," said board spokesman Mark Browning. After the public hearings, a board committee will vote on its final recommendation for the rule - which could change based on the public input - and that recommendation will go to the full board for a vote, likely in September or October.

The requirement to take online courses to graduate from high school was part of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's "Students Come First" school reform legislation that passed this year; originally, Luna pushed to require eight online courses to graduate, then four, and then the final version left the number to the state board, which is looking at two; Idaho would be the first state with such a requirement. It's part of the reform plan's move to shift state funds from teacher and administrator salaries to technology boosts, merit-pay bonuses and online learning. You can read the full proposed rule change here.

Lack of money strains school reforms; Maine had big grants to fund theirs

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has an interesting look today at how lack of money is straining the implementation of the "Students Come First" school-reform technology initiative, and how the 39-member task force tasked with planning out the tech initiative heard this week about how another state, Maine, took a different tack - launching a laptop computer initiative for middle schoolers with the help of big multimillion-dollar grants that paid for everything from the computers to home Internet access for students who couldn't afford it. You can read his column here.

State Dept of Ed adds staffer to help implement school reform laws

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state Department of Education has hired a program specialist to help implement sweeping changes for Idaho's public schools. The agency says Travis Drake came aboard last Wednesday and will help carry out the new education laws, along with other programs and department initiatives. Idaho will introduce teacher merit pay and shift money from salaries toward classroom technology, phasing in laptops for teachers and students, under the changes backed by public schools chief Tom Luna and the governor in the 2011 session. Luna has already reassigned two staffers within his department to carry out the changes signed into law this year. Luna's agency says the new position was created using savings found within the education department. Drake, a recent Seattle Pacific University graduate and intern during the 2011 Idaho Legislature, will earn $41,600 annually.

Discovery Education official: ‘Kids have really changed,’ learn differently now

A team from Discovery Education is now addressing the "Students Come First" Technology Task Force, headed by Hall Davidson, a former middle school teacher and now director of global learning initiatives for the Silver Spring, Md.-based company. Davidson said, "Kids really have changed." They learn differently now, he said, because they've spent so much time, from such a young age, using media, including TV, computers and smartphones. "It affects the way they learn," he said. "When that happens, it means we have to adjust the material we give to them." Different media and means of delivering it and interacting with it, including social networks, work better for students now than watching a program all the way through, he said. They'll learn better and faster and with more retention, he said, "if we teach them the way they're wired to learn."

Here's what Discovery Education says on its website: "BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK. Created by the Discovery Channel, we engage students through dynamic curricular resources like Discovery Education streaming Plus and Discovery Education Science, support teachers through customized professional development and assessment services, and ultimately improve student achievement." It also says, "Discovery Education has successfully implemented digital instructional materials in school districts of all sizes across the U.S."

Joining Davidson for the presentation today is Betsy Drennan, sales director for the region; Craig Halper, vice president for customer operations and platform strategy; and Justin Karkow, director of professional development.

Denver shares its Schoolnet experience

Idaho's Students Come First Technology Task Force is now hearing from representatives of the Denver Public Schools Instructional Management System. "As much as we love the technology piece, it's really not about technology, it's really about teaching," Jason Martinez told the group. "What we hope to do is accelerate the busy work."

Megan Marquez told the group that in setting up its instructional management system, Denver decided to develop a portal around Schoolnet, the same program Idaho is about to implement. "Schoolnet predicted it would take three months" to set up, Marquez said. "It did not." It actually took two years to load all the curriculum information and other pieces into the Schoolnet system, she said. The system links assessment data and curriculum, and can be accessed by teachers, counselors and others.

Denver teacher Waunita Vann said she was initially leery of dealing with the data system, but found it extremely helpful in dealing with at-risk students. "It really has just revolutionized the way we work," she said. Where it might have taken six weeks to figure out what was going on with a problem student, the data is now at her fingertips, she said, all the way back to grade school, and she can work with other teachers and school staffers to develop a plan for that student in a matter of days. "We have been able to make intentional one-on-one intervention plans for students," she said, and get started on them without delay.