Tom Luna’s plan to radically alter Idaho schools has made headlines all over Idaho. We’ve posted some news excerpts below, focusing on coverage of Idaho educators’ response to his plan. Two other items of note:
- IEA President Sherri Wood has submitted an op-ed to newspapers across the state, and we’ve heard it will be running in several communities over the next few days. Be sure to watch for it and share it with others!
- There is a new Facebook page, Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, to discuss Luna's plan.
On to the news …
From Jessie Bonner of the Associated Press:
“I am very concerned about the fact that we want effective teachers and we want them more actively involved in their profession, but yet we're going take away their ability to discuss at the bargaining table things like parent-teacher conferences, what professional development they need, how students are graded, said Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood. “All of those things are discussed in negotiations.”
Idaho school districts that lose students would no longer hold onto 99 percent of the state funding that came with that student for another year, saving an estimated $5.4 million, under the plan
And increasing the student-per-classroom ratio from 18.2 to 19.8 over the next five years will save about $100 million, according to the proposal. The union rejected Luna's suggestion that technology, including electronic hand-held devices he passed at the hearing, will help ease the burden of increased class sizes.
“I don't quite understand the trade-off,” Wood said. “You're going to give a teacher a 'clicker' and yet you're going to load more students into their classroom.”
From Mike Butts in the Idaho Press Tribune:
Luna stressed that his plan focuses on the student. But Wood said you can't separate the students from teachers in the education process.
Wood also questioned the use of more online classes in the plan.
“Technology does not replace the classroom teacher,” Wood said. “And the more students you put in a classroom the less one-on-one time you get.”
Wood disagreed with Luna's statement that voters want to keep school funding at current levels but don't want taxes raised. “The voters are raising the taxes every year as they pass more and more levies at the local level,” Wood said.
She said Idaho already ranks 6th among states with the largest class size, and Luna's plan could make that ranking go up. “It's certainly not an award we want to win,” Wood said.
Teachers need to address other topics that have an impact on education besides just salaries, Wood said.
From Betsy Z. Russell in the Spokesman-Review …
Luna said there is “no correlation” between student-teacher ratio and student achievement. He said Idaho’s current average student-teacher ratio is 18.2, and it would increase to 19.8, though Wood said the reality in many classrooms is 30 to 35 students per teacher.
“Over five years we’re going to increase student-teacher ratio by 1.6 students, but in return we’re going to provide a tremendous amount of additional technology,” Luna said. “That additional technology is going to give the teachers the tools they need to manage the classroom even with an additional student or two.”
Wood disagreed, saying her 28 years of teaching showed her that class sizes matter. She said, “When we talk about what’s good for kids, raising class size is not good for kids.”
… and from Russell at Eye on Boise:
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's school reform plan, just unveiled today, would eliminate the jobs of about 770 teachers over the next five years, according to Department of Education estimates. “Because we are requiring online courses and because we are going to increase the student-teacher ratio over the next five years, there is anticipated to be fewer teachers,” said Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath. “Over five years it would equal about 770. … We believe over the next five years we can absorb most of those through attrition.”
Increases in class sizes would go into effect next fall, and bump up again the following year. The requirement for high school students to take two online courses per year would start with next year's 9th graders, the move up a year each year until it applied to all high school students.
From Amy Huddleston in The Times-News:
Larisa Alexander, president of the Twin Falls High School Parent Teacher Student Organization, doesn’t like the idea of basing teacher pay on student achievement.
“They work hard and put in a lot of hours and students come from a lot of different backgrounds,” Alexander said. “I hate to see pay depend on something that isn’t necessarily in their control.”
Kimberly High School teacher Darin Gonzales, the state teachers union’s Kimberly School District representative, said he needed more time to look over the new proposals.
“With this magnitude of change that he’s talking about, you may need a week to learn the nuts and bolts of it all,” Gonzales said. “The teachers haven’t looked at it yet because everybody was working today but this is a big change. There are so many questions.”
From William Spence of the Lewiston Tribune (subscribers only):
To pay for performance bonuses and an estimated $50 million in new technology over the next two years, Luna wants to increase the student-teacher ratio in classrooms by about 10 percent over the next five years, from 18.2 to 19.8. …
Critics say that 18.2 figure is substantially lower than what most teachers see on a day-to-day basis.
“That isn't the reality on the ground,” said Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association teachers' union. “The latest statistics we have are two years old. They indicated Idaho had the sixth-largest class size in the nation, and we know that number is larger now because of layoffs the last two years.”
Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, a member of the House Education Committee, cited a couple of concerns. In the pay-for-performance component, he wondered how student achievement could be accurately correlated with teacher performance, given its influenced by a number of factors, such as parental involvement or peer-group interaction.
He also worried about Luna's proposal to eliminate the 99 percent funding guarantee, which spares small rural districts from large funding swings based on changes in student enrollment.
“For a lot of rural districts, their resources are already stretched to the max,” he said. “The only thing that's helping them out is that 99 percent guarantee. I think you'll see a lot of representatives pound on that point.”
From Clark Corbin in the Post Register (subscribers only):
Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, suggested Luna was pitting students against teachers while unveiling the proposal.
“Technology does not replace classroom teachers,” Wood said. “The more students you put in a class, the less opportunity they have for one-on-one instruction.”
Wood also expressed concern with eliminating tenure and giving districts freedom to decrease their staff sizes in the fall if enrollment falls short of projections. She said those measures could hinder efforts to attract talented teachers. …
… Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said he was impressed by the scope of reform in Luna's presentation. But, as a longtime educator, Bateman said he will vote for proposals only if he becomes convinced the initiatives will lead to increased learning opportunities for students.
From Dustin Hurst on IdahoReporter.com:
Not everyone is thrilled with the changes, however. Jan Rudeen, a teacher from Washington Elementary in Sandpoint, a member of the Idaho Education Association – the teachers’ union – and a 37-year veteran teacher, says she is skeptical about Luna’s plan. “I’m worried about the increasing class size,” said Rudeen. “And technology is one thing, but do you have enough staff to cover students’ academic needs?”
Rudeen also objects to the merit pay proposal, which will pay districts based on student achievement and then let local officials decide how to best distribute reward money to teachers. “The merit pay thing scares me too,” she said. “That would be fine with me if it would increase salaries, but if it’s based on popularity, then I’m wary.”
A good base pay for a starting teacher, Rudeen says, should be somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 annually. Luna’s plan sets base pay for beginning teachers at $30,000 after it dropped to $29,500 in past years.