When Idaho School State Superintendent Tom Luna unveiled his education proposals last month, educators and parents sprang into action to oppose what was clearly one of the most destructive and ill-conceived “reform” packages in the country. Thanks to a relentless grassroots effort, the Senate Education Committee agreed last Thursday to send the bills back for revisions.
Although encouraged by the news, Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood cautioned that the bills need a lot more than a few tweaks.
“It sounds like the lawmakers have sent it back for an oil change,” Wood remarked. “when they really need a new transmission.”
Although Luna’s proposals arrived neatly wrapped in jargon like “Students First,” “21st Century Classroom,” “Great Teachers and Leaders,” and “Transparent Accountability,” a few days in the spotlight revealed that they formed a largely ham-fisted and reckless attempt to turn the state’s public education system upside down. The plan would increase class size, reduce the teaching force, replace teachers with mandatory online classes, and gut job protections for educators–all without offering a whiff of evidence how these and other proposals would not harm Idaho students.
Which is why educators and parents across the state last week took to the streets, phone banks, and social media (the Facebook group Idaho Parents and Teachers Together is helping rally grassroots opposition) to protest the Luna Plan. As lawmakers began public hearings on the Luna plan inside the state Capitol, hundreds picketed outside, including Loretta Madison and her daughter Sarah, a fourth grader at Riverside Elementary School in Boise. Madison, like many other parents, is concerned that online classes are no real substitute for professional, dedicated classroom teachers.
“I came out to show my support for teachers,” Madison explained. “ I oppose the State Superintendent’s plan to eliminate teaching positions to pay for laptop computers and online classes.”
Inside the Capitol, lawmakers heard from educators like Laurie Kiester, a teacher at Parma High School, who urged the committee to listen to the community, step back and consider other proposals that would actually improve schools.
“You’ve been given piles of research that show increasing class sizes is bad for education,” Kiester testified. “You have been given petitions from students. If you know there are problems with this, then you should not vote for it.”
With the bills now undergoing some redrafting (due this week), IEA President Wood believes only true collaboration with all stakeholders can produce effective change for Idaho’s schools.
“Idaho educators and parents know that it just doesn’t make sense to tear down the current system and replace it with unproven ideas,” Wood said on Friday. “It is past time for Mr. Luna to go back to the drawing board with these bills and seek input form the people who spend their days in Idaho’s classrooms and their nights and weekends grading papers and attending school events. “
“You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”