by Josh Gross
Students from Treasure Valley junior and senior high schools crashed a meeting of the Idaho Press Club today, hoping to ask questions of the featured speaker: Tom Luna.
As it was a private event, Press Club officials said the students could observe but would have to remain silent. They remained at the meeting for about 20 minutes but then left.
In the hall outside the meeting, the students asked Betsy Russell, Press Club president and reporter for the Spokesman Review, if she would ask their questions for them since they were not allowed to speak. She replied that she'd already asked two questions but would be glad to answer any questions they had about the event or being a reporter.
Citydesk asked the students what questions they had and later posed some of their questions to Melissa McGrath, public information officer for the Idaho State Department of Education.
Several students were concerned that laptops, which Luna wants to distribute to high schoolers, would simply provide more opportunity to "goof off" instead of focusing on schoolwork.
"Computers would only be used in the classroom setting and the teacher is always the manager of that classroom," said McGrath. "These are not laptops that would be going home with students and would only be used during the school day."
McGrath said that software could be used to limit or track student Internet access to ensure they're on task.
One Kuna High student questioned if merit pay would increase the incentive for teachers to fudge test scores.
McGrath said that overall academic growth, not test scores, will be used as a measure. She also said that bonuses will be paid on a school-wide level.
"I think schools will want to do better," she said.
Several students were concerned about Advanced Placement courses, both their availability and whether colleges would see them as valid.
"The plan does not cut funding for A.P. in any way," said McGrath. "If anything, it provides funding for dual credit courses."
McGrath was also adamant that schools they'd talked to, including several Ivy League universities and Stanford, would accept online courses.
But the students' primary concern was class size.
McGrath said good teachers are more important than class sizes and that the Luna plan uses technology to cope.
"If a class has 30 students and you add two more, the technology will allow them to better track student progress to identify students who are struggling or gifted instantly," she said.
McGrath also said that the manner of online courses could include everything from lectures via Skype to students having the ability to interact with a teacher via instant message.