Last year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.
To help pay for these programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.
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.
“Teachers don’t object to the use of technology,” said Sabrina Laine, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, which has studied the views of the nation’s teachers using grants from organizations like the Gates and Ford Foundations. “They object to being given a resource with strings attached, and without the needed support to use it effectively to improve student learning.”
In Idaho, teachers have been in open revolt. They marched on the capital last spring, when the legislation was under consideration. They complain that lawmakers listened less to them than to heavy lobbying by technology companies, including Intel and Apple. Teacher and parent groups gathered 75,000 verified signatures, more than was needed, to put a referendum on the ballot next November that could overturn the law.
“This technology is being thrown on us. It’s being thrown on parents and thrown on kids,” said Ms. Rosenbaum, 32, who has written letters to the governor and schools superintendent. In her letters she tells them she is a Republican and a Marine, because, she says, it has become fashionable around the country to dismiss complaining teachers as union-happy liberals.
“I fought for my country,” she said. “Now I’m fighting for my kids.”
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.
Some teachers have also expressed concern that teaching positions could be eliminated and their raises reduced to help offset the cost of the technology.
Mr. Luna acknowledged that many teachers in the state were conservative Republicans like him — making Idaho’s politics less black and white than in states like Wisconsin and New Jersey, where union-backed teachers have been at odds with politicians.
Mr. Luna said he understood that technological change could be scary, particularly because teachers would need to adapt to new ways of working.
“The role of the teacher definitely does change in the 21st century. There’s no doubt,” Mr. Luna said. “The teacher does become the guide and the coach and the educator in the room helping students to move at their own pace.”