Today, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna rolled out the details of his sweeping proposals to change the way education happens in Idaho. Mr. Luna described the “Three Pillars” of his plan as 21st Century Classrooms; Great Teachers and Leaders; and Transparent Accountability. You can read more here.
While the Idaho Education Association sees elements of the plan that our members – who represent the majority of Idaho teachers – will find praiseworthy, we’re concerned about many other aspects of the plan. For starters:
· It presents the Legislature and Idaho families with a false choice: support students or support teachers. In fact, the interests of teachers and children are inseparable.
· With its proposed removal of job protection for new teachers, it reduces the ability of administrators, teachers, and parents to plan for the future.
· Idaho educators are embracing technology. But Mr. Luna’s proposals threaten to turn technology into more of a substitute than a supplement for face-to-face, hands-on classroom learning.
· Class sizes will go up, and the average class sizes cited by Mr. Luna are misleading since they are based on dividing a school’s population by all the certificated employees, not just classroom teachers. Idaho already ranks in the Top 10 for largest class sizes.
· Although Mr. Luna proposes to restore the salary schedule and bring starting teacher pay back to $30,000 – a level it fell under this year – the plan will not prove attractive to young teachers, many of whom can make far more money with more job protections in our neighboring states.
· Perhaps most concerning of all, the plan was formulated without much input from teachers – the real experts on what works in the classroom. And with its insistence that only wages and benefits can be bargained, it leaves educators out of the loop on partnering to determine other key aspects of their jobs.
“Education is a team sport,” state Sen. Edgar Malepeai (D-Pocatello) said at the joint meeting of the Senate and House Education Committees. He suggested that teacher and parent input is central to education reform. IEA members agree wholeheartedly.
Although Mr. Luna said the plan was developed by all stakeholders, the blueprint set forth by the Education Alliance of Idaho wasn’t yet in a form to be embraced as policy. For that matter, why introduce such a radical restructuring of education policy during an ongoing budget crisis that has placed unprecedented demands on Idaho’s children and their teachers?
Mr. Luna frames his proposals as a response to the choice between cannibalizing the current system with more furlough days and fewer textbooks – the conditions we’re seeing this school year – or raising taxes to pay for the system we have now: a system that he and Gov. Butch Otter said repeatedly last fall is among the best in the nation.
What he, Gov. Otter, and Legislative leadership won’t own up to is the massive tax shift that’s been going on in Idaho over the past few years. Since FY 2007, school districts have increased their supplemental levies by $34.8 million dollars, or 44 percent. Idahoans are stepping up to pay for quality schools in every corner of the state.
In other words, for too many Idahoans, “increased parental involvement” has mainly meant more local school levy requests and much bigger out-of-pocket costs. Parents need to know that while Idaho leaders claim they won’t raise taxes, they continue to shift the burden of education costs onto Idaho families.
What really helps teachers – and the children they teach – is in-depth professional development, smaller class sizes, mentoring, and support from administrators and parents. Teamwork and collaboration, not conflict, will improve Idaho’s schools. The interests of teachers and children are inseparable, no matter how hard Mr. Luna and Gov. Otter try to separate them.