Here is Rep. Brian Cronin's (D-Boise) prepared text for his floor debate in the House against Senate Bill 1108 today. We reprint it here with his permission.
This bill is flawed seventeen ways from Sunday. But rather than talk specifics, the so-called details that many don’t want to be troubled with, let’s talk about the underlying meaning of these bills.
I want to start by saying that I resent the suggestion that because I do not support this legislation, that somehow my reaction is emotional or irrational, as many opponents of this plan have been characterized. It’s been suggested that the hundreds of emails I get every week have been written by people that don’t understand the legislation. Such an assessment is as condescending as it is inaccurate.
I’ve read the legislation. Not once but several times. And I’ve been asking lots of questions. In fact, I think the Gentleman from 5, the good Chairman, would acknowledge that I more than used up my quota of questions during three days of hearings on these bills. I’ve volunteered in my daughter’s second-grade classrooms and I have some understanding of the realities and challenges of today’s schools. And I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about school reform.
So, I am tired of being told that I somehow don’t understand this legislation.
And I’m also tired of the analogy that I’m unwilling to take the tough medicine that’s needed to improve our schools. This so-called medicine that’s been prescribed, this reform plan, not only doesn’t taste good but it wasn’t made in a pharmacy, hasn’t been tested for safe and effective use, isn’t being dispensed properly, and is being prescribed for a disease that hasn’t been diagnosed.
But one person’s medicine is another person’s Kool-Aid; nevertheless I refuse to drink it.
I’ve come to the inevitable and irrefutable conclusion that this bill has nothing to do with student achievement and nothing to do with ensuring that our children will be better prepared for college and for the global workforce.
As far as I can tell, the only thing that links this bill with student achievement is the unsustainable premise that our kids are not keeping up with their peers in China and India because we have too many ineffective teachers that we need to get rid of.
But when I’ve asked to show some proof of the cause-and-effect logic that led to this premise, no one’s been able to do so.
Being the very last state in the entire country to have a longitudinal data system, we don’t actually really know what our kids have been learning and not learning and we don’t have information that might allow us to start to draw connections between teachers, teaching conditions, school leadership, and a variety of other factors and levels of student achievement. Just four months ago we heard how much better our students are doing on standardized tests; now we hear that they are doomed to fail in the global economy.
So, in the absence of real data—solid evidence showing what’s working and what’s not—we’re simply going to guess. And our best guess is that the problem is our teachers and their contracts. After all, everyone had that one teacher at some point in their scholastic careers that we deemed as sub-par. Thus, we can conclude that the problem is rampant. If we can just root out all of these bad teachers, the Chinese will no longer be such a threat to our way of life.
Now, when I critique the plan on its merits, proponents of the bill often offer up their standard retort to all questions and criticisms: “What’s your plan?”
My plan for what? What are we trying to fix? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my colleagues in this body ask in committee or here on the floor, “What is the problem we’re trying to address with this legislation?” The question is more relevant today than ever. That’s not to suggest that we can’t be doing better—I believe that we can—but we need to start by identifying, as any business would, our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The so-called SWOT analysis that is standard operating process in the business world. We need a clear identification of the problems we’re trying to solve before we then propose solutions for tackling them.
Is the problem we’re most concerned with that not enough students are going on to higher education? If so, why didn’t we consider looking at things like:
1) How we create a culture in our schools that sets the expectation that most students will pursue a post-secondary educational experience
2) The rising costs of higher ed and the ability (or inability) of low- and middle-income families to send their children to college
3) Perhaps the lack of college counselors in our high schools.
4) The lack of exposure to potential career paths and instruction about what educational credentials various careers require
Do we know why we have one of the lowest rates in the country of college entrance? Have we conducted a study of high school seniors to try and understand why they don’t go on? Is it because there aren’t enough billboards out on the highways telling kids to “go on”?
Or maybe the problem we’re trying to address is that our young people don’t leave school with the skills they need for the workplace. In which case, we must ask:
1) Is there a workplace skills inventory identifying the biggest gaps for students entering the workforce?
2) If we can’t produce enough engineers and computer programmers, should we look at requiring four years of math and science classes in high school?
3) Which industries are we trying to prepare our students for: Skills needed in the hospitality industry are far different than those needed in business administration which are different from those needed in construction?
4) What about the testing mechanisms we use? Do they correlate with the knowledge and skills that the workplace requires? If students are passing their iSATs and STILL arriving at college or work unprepared, than shouldn’t we perhaps be looking at new assessment tools? Or perhaps we need to be redesigning curricula?
If the problem is supposedly teachers, shouldn’t we be asking these questions:
1) Are our colleges of education doing an adequate job of preparing teachers so that they can begin to succeed and thrive in their first year of teaching and for their entire careers?
2) Are teachers spending too much time teaching to a test instead of nurturing the higher-order analytical skills that the global economy requires?
3) Are teachers given adequate time to prepare lessons, plan curricula, or work collaboratively with their peers?
4) If removing ineffective teachers doesn’t happen when it should, perhaps we need to look at the administrators who may be failing to do their job.
5) Are we using an adequate model of evaluation of teachers? Do we evaluate teachers frequently enough to be meaningful? During those evaluations, do we provide feedback that teachers can actually use and apply in the classroom to be more meaningful?
I could go on and on with these questions but the point I’m trying to make is that we have not done an adequate job of precisely defining if and where the current system is failing us. And because we haven’t done that, we can’t possibly know which improvements to pursue that are going to advance effective teaching and elevate student achievement.
So, that brings me to what this bill does.
Let’s stop pretending that Senate bill 1108 has anything to do with education reform or the classroom or—and this is the part that offends me most—our children. My children. The bill intends to dismantle the Idaho Education Association, put teachers in their place, and ensure that teachers’ voices are effectively silenced on matters of contract, classroom learning conditions, scheduling, curriculum, and many other areas where there expertise should be welcomed.
If you have any doubt that this bill is simply taking aim at the teacher’s association, I recommend you look at Section 11 or 33-534 (page 15 of the bill). This provision, which is more than a page of new code, requires that the districts now undertake the somewhat burdensome task of informing all educators of their options for professional liability insurance.
To what end? I have not seen, heard, or read about a single problem with teachers being underinsured. No, the issue is simply that the Idaho Education Association offers supplementary or secondary liability insurance as a benefit of membership. There is no other reason for this new code to be introduced. I have never seen such a provision included as part of any education reform agenda. This union bashing provision isn’t even thinly veiled—its purpose couldn’t be more obvious to the naked eye.
So, we’ve chosen to devalue and demoralize the very people who have been nothing less than heroic in recent years by collaboratively withstanding funding shortfalls, financial emergencies, staffing reductions—all the while shielding the kids in the classrooms from the damaging cuts we’ve chosen to make.
The results, I fear, will not be good. We’ve already heard talk of a mass exodus of teachers who will be seeking opportunities in other states where working conditions are better and respect for teachers isn’t just lip service. I don’t believe these are idle threats: we run a real risk of losing the very people who are at the heart of our education system. Not to mention how hard it will be attract top talent to teach in Idaho.
And we act as if morale doesn’t matter. We act as if denigrating teachers and limiting the rights they’ve previously held and responsibly exercised won’t have an impact on performance. I know many teachers and I know that they do everything they can to leave all other considerations and concerns that don’t have to do with children and their learning at the classroom door every day. That said, it will be hard to transcend what is such blatant attack on our teaching force and not let it impact one’s work.
I’ve worked in the private sector for 15 years. I’ve never seen a management strategy that tries to coax better performance out of employees by telling them that they’re failing, taking away their voice, and telling effective employees that this punitive measure is for their own good. Managing by fear and intimidation is ultimately a failing strategy.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, this bill makes teachers and the Idaho Education Association our adversaries, rather than collaborators. This not only contradicts all research on the relationship between unions and achievement but it is a slap in the face to the people who dedicate their lives to giving our children skills, knowledge, tools, and the nurturing they need to thrive and pursue a lifetime of learning.
We’re not going to get better teaching by punishing our teachers. We may achieve certain political aims but this doesn’t help our children. For this and so many other reasons, I cannot support this misguided piece of legislation.