Stories like Scott Walker’s high-profile battle over teacher bargaining rights in Wisconsin tends to get all the headlines, but there are more forces than just budgetary ones buffeting teachers. In Idaho, teachers are divided over a new law that mandates online instruction in classrooms:
This change is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved. […]Gov. C. L. Otter, known as Butch, and Tom Luna, the schools superintendent, who have championed the plan, said teachers had been misled by their union into believing the changes were a step toward replacing them with computers. Mr. Luna said the teachers’ anger was intensified by other legislation, also passed last spring, that eliminated protections for teachers with seniority and replaced it with a pay-for-performance system.
No doubt there are reasonable points on both sides of this issue, and one can’t help but raise an eyebrow at the lobbying on behalf of the law by the hi-tech companies who stand to profit from computer sales to Idaho public schools. But the law’s backers are undoubtedly right in at least a couple of ways. Developing the ability to work with and learn from new technology is an increasingly important part of educating a truly 21st-century American workforce. And online instruction has the potential to reduce educational costs by allowing bigger (virtual) class sizes and freeing up students to learn at paces of their own choosing. Fewer teachers, teaching more students, and teaching them faster.You can begin to see why policy like this fills blue public teacher unions with dread. After years of seeming immunity, the same technological gales that have been buffeting their comrades in the manufacturing sectors are now beginning to buffet them too. Forget the budget battles of Wisconsin; technology may be the real battle line in 21st century public education. The blue model is engaged in a fight for survival on multiple fronts.