Teachers are a resilient lot; it’s a hallmark of our profession and a key to long-term success in the classroom. This quality has come in handy the past few years, which have been turbulent with respect to education policy.
Educators have found themselves in a political tug of war—at once trying to teach our children amidst all of the turmoil and noise, while at the same time trying to assert and insert ourselves in a policymaking process that sometimes excludes the very people tasked with carrying out policies.
We certainly felt supported by voters who overwhelmingly rejected Propositions 1, 2, 3—policies that seemed less about “reforming” education or improving student learning and more about attacking teachers and justifying more cuts to public education.
Throughout much of last year, our members discussed how we would move forward, regardless of election results. We didn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the election outcome would put an end to reform discussions. In fact, we advocated for a broader public dialogue about improving our schools, including proven strategies that all stakeholders could get behind. We worked diligently on a white paper (found on our web site) outlining numerous research-based recommendations that we hoped would advance the dialogue in productive ways.
Teachers were guardedly optimistic when Gov. Otter convened an education task force. We have actively participated in that process. In a perfect world, the task force might have examined all the concepts in the failed propositions, taking the necessary time to analyze, assess, and make recommendations. Some, however, were intent on reintroducing many ideas found in the failed propositions, regardless of the task force process.
Thus, we engaged with lawmakers and other stakeholders in conversations about the recycled laws. We came to the table in good faith. Where possible, we’ve supported bills that we feel could help educators. For example, we support a bill requiring contract negotiation meetings to be open and transparent. We also support a bill allowing existing contracts to be reopened in districts facing financial emergencies. In some cases, we’ve worked to improve legislation that ultimately we couldn’t support, but have agreed to be neutral on.
On the other hand, there are many bills this year that we strongly oppose—often for reasons that echo our opposition to Propositions 1, 2, 3. Various proposals seek to take away teacher’s voices, severely limit negotiation practices, and make teachers less able to influence the school environment in which they work.
Some of our members and many citizens who supported the repeal of the 2011 laws, suggested that we should reject anything and everything that resembles those repealed laws. We could have taken that tack—it would have made our legislative agenda rather simple. Instead, we opted for collaboration and dialogue, knowing we wouldn’t get everything we wanted but hoping to make progress on some of the issues that matter most to us.
As the legislative session comes to a close, almost nothing has been done to address how children learn and what systemic changes we can make to improve outcomes for all kids. There are many things we know work, based on lessons from other states and countries. Instead, we’ve spent months debating stale ideas that won’t impact learning but will continue to erode teacher morale and Idaho’s ability to attract teaching talent.
The people of Idaho spoke clearly last November: reform must be a collaborative and research-driven process that’s led, in part, by educators. We urge voters to keep a close eye on upcoming votes in the Legislature, contact legislators and tell them what you think, and hold them accountable if they turn a deaf ear to the message sent when Propositions 1, 2, 3 were repealed.
Penni Cyr is President of the Idaho Education Association.