Remarks by Sherri Wood
President, Idaho Education Association, 620 N. 6th St., Boise, ID 83701
Prepared for the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee of the Idaho Legislature January 21, 2011
Senator Cameron, Representative Bell, and members of the committee, thank you for holding this hearing. I am Sherri Wood. I spent 28 years teaching in Caldwell and I’m proud to serve as the president for 13,000 Idahoans who work in our schools.
Two weeks ago, Idaho parents and teachers – and you – thought the main debate this session would be how to avoid further cuts to Idaho’s schools. Now, however, you are being asked to adopt a hastily proposed plan developed mostly without the input of professional educators and parents.
Mr. Luna believes that Idaho can simply no longer afford to provide a classroom-focused education for our children, so we have no choice but to shift to a system where laptops replace many teachers; where students will spend even more hours each day in front of screens; and where a thousand education jobs will be lost over the next two years. We can do better by our children.
Mr. Luna says his plan will only increase class sizes by 2, which would be fine if teachers actually had classes of 18 or 19 children. But the current average class size in Coeur d’Alene high schools is 25. In Boise, most 5th graders share their classrooms with 26 other children.
Mr. Luna will fund his plan to give every 9th grader a laptop by increasing these class sizes. He says the lost teaching jobs will be absorbed by attrition, but the fact remains: Two years from now, if you pass this plan, Idaho will have a thousand fewer people contributing to our economy. Many will be replaced by online instructors who – in the case of the for-profit, out-of-state-run Idaho Virtual Academy – have a student-teacher ratio of 52 to one.
Idaho educators embrace technology. Thousands of us already use the Internet to reinforce lessons and expand our students’ opportunities. However, we know technology is a tool and it can’t replace the guidance of a caring, competent adult in the room. And as Idahoans, we surely don’t want to see a day come when — instead of children meeting their new teachers each August – their parents are told “there’s an app for that” and they’re sent online to download the 4th-grade curriculum.
Finally, we’re concerned that Mr. Luna is underestimating the costs of an important reform effort that’s already under way. Members of the committee: You need to ask how Mr. Luna plans to adequately fund the common core standards, because right now, they look like another unfunded mandate to our local districts.
Mr. Luna’s plan is built on a slogan, “Students Come First.” Idaho educators are offended by the idea that we haven’t been putting students first all along, and Idaho parents have already shown that their children’s education is a priority. Over the past few years – since the state decreased its support for K-12 education – Idahoans have repeatedly passed levies to be sure that their neighborhood schools stay strong. So as educators, parents, and taxpayers, we question Mr. Luna’s claim that his plan is the best option we have. We hope that you – as our elected leaders – will question this, too. Thanks again for this opportunity to speak.