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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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul has a price. Strapped school districts are aiming to skirt Idaho’s new school laws, which shift $137 million from salaries and other expenses to technology. The money is diverted over six years, amounting to about 2 percent of state support to Idaho’s 115 school districts. The tension bubbled Monday and Tuesday during the second meeting of the 39-member Students Come First Technology Task Force appointed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. The task force is to make implementation recommendations to the 2012 Legislature. The flashpoint is the mandate for online classes, with district leaders moving to protect their funds from online providers. Jared Jenks of the Sugar-Salem School District in Madison County told the task force subcommittee on online learning implementation that he’s eyeing ways to circumvent the law. “This isn’t official, but it’s a possibility”/Dan Popkey, Statesman. More here.
Question: Do you still think education “reform” proposed by Superintendent Tom Luna and pushed through by Gov. Butch Otter and GOP legislators is a swell idea?
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.
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.
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.
Idaho state Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he supports the new recommendation for two online courses for high school graduation, down from state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's original proposal of eight. “It wasn't eight for very long,” Goedde said, noting, “Then it went to four.” He said, “Understand we're talking about a graduation requirement, so that's a minimum. … Lots of students … may take 10 or more.”
Goedde, who served on the State Board of Education's committee that settled on the recommendation, said, “The thinking on an asynchronous requirement is that high school graduates are going to need to have the skills associated with online learning when you do not have face-to-face access to an instructor. … They need to have some self-discipline and time management.”
Though the two-course requirement still needs approval from the full State Board of Education, Goedde noted that two state board members were on the committee that settled on the figure. “My guess is it should have fairly smooth sailing,” he said. He noted that the most any state has required, as far as online courses for high school graduation, is one, and only three states have gone that route. “So I'm comfortable with two,” Goedde said. “I think it's realistic.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The online presentation from Maine about that state's student laptop program was interrupted by another videoconference back there, and various interruptions from tech people, including one who said he had “hard muted” one of the sources because “it sounds like we're in a math class.” That drew laughter in Idaho. Finally, Maine ed official Steven Garton gave up on answering questions from Idaho task force members and just gave his email address.
“Students Come First” Technology Task Force member Christine Donnell asked Maine educational technology coordinator Steven Garton, “We have encountered some resistance to this legislation. … Can you help us learn from your experiences, how we can overcome these bumps in the road?” Garton responded, “This has never been a replacement for teachers, and I don't see how this, I think the fear of technology coming in and taking over for a teacher is something that's been out there, but it takes the teacher to make this work, it takes the teacher to use it.”
Garton said the best “virtual schools” have found that “in order for it to work, the student-teacher ratio actually has to be less, because they have to be communicating more with each student.” He said there's some fear that online learning will turn public school classes into a “university lecture hall” type setting where hundreds of students listen to one teacher. “In the public school setting, that's not really what the people are looking for,” he said. “They found that the students do not perform. … We really haven't had that problem in Maine.”
The “Students Come First” technology task force now is hearing an online presentation from the head of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, Steven Garton, on how that state's laptop computer program for every student has worked. State Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who is chairing the task force this morning (state schools Supt. Tom Luna, the chairman, isn't here, but is participating online), said Maine started its “one-to-one” laptop initiative in 2002, and is “one of the states that probably have the most history behind them in online learning.”
Among Garton's hints to Idaho: His state carefully structured its request for proposals for the computers, and now two other states may join in its next RFP; Idaho could join in too, he said. Maine currently uses Apple computers Other perhaps surprising aspects of the Maine program: The computers must go home with the students. Maine found that damage actually went down with that requirement, Garton said. Without it, he said, “You can't assign homework assignments that must be done at home because the student doesn't have the device.” A key is parent meetings to acquaint them with the expectations for student use of the computers. There's no filtering of student computer use at home; instead, there's logging, showing what students have done so they can be held accountable. He also noted that the Maine program includes elaborate charging programs and battery-replacement, rather than having power cords strung about in classrooms; the service contract requires replacement of batteries once they can't last the whole school day. Schools also have spares on hand for any student whose computer breaks or is in repair.
Garton also told the Idaho task force, “If the student has music on their machine, they're going to take care of it.” And he said professional development for teachers is a top priority in Maine to make the program work. “We have 13 people on our staff that just do professional development,” he said. It includes twice-weekly webinars for teachers and more.
Idaho's tech-focused “Students Come First” school reform plan originally envisioned requiring all Idaho students to take eight online classes to graduate from high school, though that number was later dropped to four, and then left open; Gov. Butch Otter has expressed interest in students taking a dozen online courses or more. Now, a task force of the state Board of Education has recommended setting that number at just two courses, one of which must be asynchronous, meaning it's conducted online at the student's own schedule, as opposed to a live video class on a set schedule. “That will be two online credits for the high school career,” state Department of Education official Luci Willits told the “Students Come First” Technology Task Force this morning. “That is their recommendation.”
If the State Board of Education approves the recommendation in August, it will go out for public comment, and then likely imposed as a rule, which would take effect immediately though lawmakers still would review it in January. “It is important for this committee to know what the state board has decided, and that is two online credits for graduation,” Willits told the task force. She noted that that could change, depending on the full board's action, but it's the likely path, and task force members should consider it as they make their plans. The task force will need to begin drafting its recommendations for implementing the reform program by October, Willits told the group.
As the “Students Come First” Technology Task Force begins its meeting this morning in the state Capitol Auditorium, facilitator Lauren Morando Rhim reminded members to turn off their technology items, like smartphones, to focus on the business at hand. A committee member, Keven Denton, suggested a change to that: Rather than turning off technology, some members will want to use it to take notes and the like, he noted. Rhim agreed, and amended her instruction: “It's use technology appropriately so it doesn't distract you from the task at hand,” she told the group.
The “Students Come First” Technology Task Force will meet Monday and Tuesday at the state capitol; the agenda includes presentations on the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the Denver Public Schools Instructional Management System, and one from several executives and the sales director for Discovery Education; subcommittee meetings also are planned. You can see the full agenda here, and watch the meeting live here.
State schools Supt. Tom Luna issued this statement today on the failure of a recall drive against him over his “Students Come First” school-reform laws: “Students Come First has always been about reforming education so we can educate more students at a higher level with limited resources. Opponents of the laws have tried to make it personal. Reforming education has never been about me; it’s about giving our students more opportunities. Our focus and priority has been and will continue to be implementation of the laws.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The effort to recall state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has officially failed, with backers falling well short of the 158,000-plus signatures needed by today's deadline to force a special election in August. An effort to target two Boise legislators for recall, GOP Sen. Mitch Toryanski and Rep. Julie Ellsworth, for their support of Luna's school reform bills, also fell short, gathering only about a quarter of the required signatures. Morgan Hill, campaign manager, said, “It's not that we didn't have support for it. I think that people all over the state were looking to sign a recall petition. We're still getting people even today who are coming up to us. But a lot of people didn't have access to us, they didn't know about it. … A lot of folks didn't even know who Tom Luna was to begin with, which was the most surprising thing.”
Hill, a Boise pilot, said the campaign raised only about $4,500, plus another $15,000 worth of in-kind advertising donations, and relied entirely on volunteers. Though it reported in early June that it had more than 75,000 signatures, Hill said an “error in the numbers” forced a recount yesterday, which led to the conclusion late last night that the campaign had gathered only about 50,000 signatures for the statewide recall petition. “Yeah, the bar was very high, and maybe unachievable, but we did a very great thing, and that's involving people in the political process,” Hill said. “Something we can look forward to in the future is that we have so many more people, tens of thousands more people now, who are involved in the political process who would not have been otherwise.”
Hill said the campaign also was hurt by the Idaho Education Association's decision not to support the recall effort; the teachers' union backed a successful referendum drive that will place all three of Luna's controversial new school reform laws on the ballot for possible repeal in the November 2012 election.
Hill will hold a press conference on the state Capitol steps at 4 p.m. today, and he said the campaign consider forming a new nonpartisan watchdog organization. “This was all started because of one man's reckless leadership and his intention to basically deconstruct the education system and basically feed it off to special interests,” Hill said. “The people came together because of that. Despite that we didn't make it, we did accomplish a much bigger goal, which is involving so many more people into the political process. I think that is the real victory, that a lot more people are aware now.”
The Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey reports today that some members of the Students Come First Technology Task Force got an unwelcome surprise in subcommittee meetings of the group this week - the consortiums their school districts are forming to offer distance-learning classes over the Idaho Education Network won't qualify as online courses for graduation requirements for the kids in their own district, who are in the same building as the teachers. It also appears that their efforts won't prevent district funds being siphoned off to other online course providers, including for-profit ones, if students decide to take classes from them.
That's the “fractional ADA” provision of the reform laws, the part that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush yesterday described as unique in the country. ADA stands for average daily attendance, which determines how state school funds are parceled out to school districts. Under the reform laws, if students decide to take an online class, a fraction of the ADA for that student is automatically shifted to the online course provider, whether or not the school district approves of it.
Popkey reports that Cliff Green, regional vice president for the for-profit Insight Schools and a member of the task force, sees opportunity in the new formula, making it easier for companies like his to compete with the state-operated Idaho Digital Learning Academy, which now offers online courses to all Idaho schools. “It's been hard to come into a state and compete with subsidy,” Green said, referring to IDLA. “Now, whoever has the best product will win.” You can read Popkey's full story here.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on this morning's visit from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise to boost state schools Supt. Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan; Bush proclaimed Idaho's new laws requiring online courses and funding them “one of a kind,” and said he thinks they “will be the models for the rest of the country.” And here's a link to an April New York Times story on how Bush is pushing his “Florida Formula” for education reform around the nation.
After their address to Idaho's school technology task force, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise joined Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho schools Supt. Tom Luna for a press conference. Luna said, “There's no better example of education reform experts in the country than these two gentlemen.” Bush said, “I'm here just as an evangelist for digital learning, but also here to commend the incredible, bold leadership of these two gentlemen, in passing the comprehensive suite of reforms that really is as important as any state effort in the last decade.”
Bush called digital learning “the tip of the spear” in education reform, but said, “What I learned in Florida was that in order to have rising student achievement happen, more often than not you have to attack this through a comprehensive effort.” He said, “The spear itself is how you reward teachers, particularly in the underserved areas and the underserved subjects, how you bring accountability to the system, how you bring a little bit of dynamic pressure so that student achievement becomes the norm rather than the exception. It requires broad policy changes, and that's what you did this year.”
Bush also said he thinks Idaho's move toward digital learning will be “a huge economic development tool,” as educators create “the content that can be exported from Idaho to other places around the country as this digital revolution takes hold.”
He said Florida requires one online course in high school. Idaho's plan, to have the state Board of Education set a requirement that likely will be much higher, will “put Idaho on the map,” Bush said. “I don't think any other state has taken this to this step.” Also unique to Idaho, he said, is the provision of the school reform law that automatically shifts funds from school districts to online course providers if students decide to take online classes. “This is part of the funding formula, so it's not just an interesting peripheral, it's front and center, it's at the core of what education's about,” Bush said. “That is unique. I don't think any state's done that in the country.”
Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise said, “I happen to believe that every child needs a mobile Internet access device.” But, he said, “It needs a strategy behind it.” He praised Idaho's approach of giving the devices to teachers first. “That makes a lot of sense,” he said. “It's the pedagogy of technology that also needs to be a major element. You're thinking those things through. … Technology is part of the total learning environment now, it's not just an add-on.”
Former Florida Gov. Job Bush said, “Big ideas require, first, leadership and stubbornness - I would call that dogged determination.” He said, “It takes time for results. … If someone slashes your tire, put on a damn new tire and execute - no offense, Tom,” an aside to Luna. “And just show fortitude, as the governor has and leaders of this state, for bolder policy. In the execution you get results.”
As members of Idaho's school technology task force get the chance to question former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, the first question was from state Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, a school board member, who asked “what one thing made the difference in making it successful, your whole revamping of education.” Bush responded: Results. “We have rising student achievement as measured by independent means,” he said. “That's exactly what I think you'll see with these sweeping reforms that you all passed. Implemented right, you're going to see rising student achievement. It takes away a lot of the opposition.” He added, “You can measure whether they're successful or not by the actual results.”
Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise told Idaho's school technology task force, “This is the choice: We're either boldly innovative, or we're badly irrelevant.” he said, “You already demonstrated your capacity to be boldly innovative. You have the chance to be the leader not only for Idaho but for all of the country.”
Here's a link to the “10 elements of digital learning” established by the Digital Learning Council, headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise. Bush, who served two terms as governor of Florida ending in 2007, is known for reforms including private-school vouchers, online courses and requiring third-graders to pass reading tests before they move up to fourth grade, ending “social promotion.” Wise served as West Virginia's governor from 2001 to 2005, and pushed successful “promise scholarship” legislation that helped thousands of West Virginia high school graduates continue their education; he's also the chairman of the national board for professional teacher standards.
The nation is facing “three looming crises,” former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise told Idaho's school technology task force this morning: Declining state revenues; mounting teacher shortages, including in specific subject areas; and a growing demand for an increasingly educated workforce. “At the same time we know we have to send more on to post-secondary, we have at least a 42 percent remediation rate going on in our community colleges,” he said. “These are students who didn't get what they needed the first time.”
Wise asked, “Is there somebody to blame?” whether it's unions, parents, teachers, government, or anyone else. “I would suggest to you that there are a lot of people trying very, very hard,” he said. Showing a slide of a cell phone from 10 years ago vs. an up-to-date smart phone, Wise said we're using different and better tools now. “That's what can happen in the classroom,” he said.