POST FALLS, Idaho Ann Rosenbaum, a former military police officer in the Marines, does not shrink from a fight, having even survived a close encounter with a car bomb in Iraq. Her latest conflict is quite different: She is now a high school teacher, and she and many of her peers in Idaho are resisting a statewide plan that dictates how computers should be used in classrooms.
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 transformation 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 policymakers 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 unproven.
"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 such as the Gates and Ford foundations. "They object to being given a resource with strings attached and without the needed support to use it effectively."
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 Rosenbaum, 32, who has written letters to the governor and school superintendent.
Gov. C.L. Otter and Tom Luna, the school 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. Luna said the teachers' anger was intensified by other legislation, also passed last spring, that eliminated protections for teachers with seniority and replaced them 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.
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. He 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," 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."
Many details about how students would use their laptop or tablet are still being debated. But under the state's plan, the teacher will not always be in the room. The plan requires high school students to take online courses for two of their 47 graduation credits.
Luna said this would allow students to take subjects that were not otherwise available at their schools and familiarize them with learning online, something he said was increasingly common in college. The computer, he added, "becomes the textbook for every class, the research device, the advanced math calculator, the word processor and the portal to a world of information."
Teachers are resisting, saying that they prefer to employ technology as it suits their own teaching methods and styles. Some feel they are judged on how much they make use of technology, regardless of whether it improves learning.
That is a concern shared by Rosenbaum, who teaches at Post Falls High School in this town in northern Idaho, near Coeur d'Alene. Rather than relying on technology, she seeks to engage students with questions, as she did recently when she was taking her sophomore English class through "The Book Thief," a novel about a family in Germany that hides a Jewish girl during World War II.
Rosenbaum stood in the center of the room with rows of desks on each side, pacing, peppering the students with questions and using each answer to prompt the next. Rosenbaum did use a computer and projector to show a YouTube video of the devastation caused by bombing in World War II. She said that while technology had a role to play, her method of teaching was timeless. "I'm teaching them to think deeply, to think. A computer can't do that."