The more we see the details -- or lack thereof -- in State Superintendent of Education Tom Luna's plan for state education, the more it looks like lunacy.
This plan must be rejected by the legislature.
Unfortunately, there is a certain inertia involved in any budget proposal and this is the only one sitting on the table. It involves a major restructuring of how our children will be taught. Ostensibly created to solve the state's financial crisis, we believe that it would create a crisis in education that would take years to repair. The state's financial situation is temporary. This proposal would fundamentally and permanently change education in Idaho.
It is not teacher friendly, by any means. No matter how often Luna mouths the phrase that teachers are our state's most important resource, it not only won't help them, it will probably drive the best ones away. From setting standards that would sharply limit teacher rights to the more important factor of overloading their classrooms to the point they can no longer effectively teach, this is a disaster in the making.
And if major colleges (and maybe even the military) won't accept online class credits, then a high school diploma with nearly a quarter of its credits based on online classes, isn't worth the paper it's printed on. How does that play out as in improvement in education?
There is no longer any doubt left in our mind that Luna does not have the best interests of public education as his foremost concern. His online learning proposals are functionally home schooling with the local districts providing baby-sitting services. Look at the software he's proposing to use (involving several companies that contributed to his re-election campaign) if you don't believe that.
The state will pay for the computers, but the district still can't get a clear answer concerning who will pay for the expanded broadband connection and wiring needs of the district -- or the hugely expensive software costs. And if a machine crashes, is broken or lost, how quickly can it be repaired or replaced -- and by whom? Anybody who's had to deal with those issues knows that it's pretty rare to get 24-hour tech support turnaround, which is the minimum a student would need.
Some district officials also wonder how many students would sell their laptops and then report them stolen or lost. "They're actually worth something," school board chairman Jim Alexander said, noting, "You don't see too many kids trying to sell their 10th-grade algebra textbook."
The kids love the idea of being given a laptop. Who wouldn't? But in casual conversations with more than a dozen students, using the laptop for education wasn't the first thing they mentioned. Some, for example, were looking forward to being able to update their Facebook pages without having to ask permission from their parents to use the family computer.
All schools could use more computers -- but as adjunct tools for teachers in classrooms, not as a replacement for those teachers. If you think a silicon chip can replace Mr. Chips, you're sadly mistaken.
Luna should have brought this up before his re-election. Then the matter could have had adequate time for debate. But then, he might not have gotten re-elected if he had. As it is, now we have about 60 days to debate the issue in the legislature, and that really isn't enough time. Sixty days to decide on a complete and permanent restructuring of education is nuts.
If this goes through, Luna should be recalled and every legislator who votes for it should be defeated at the polls in the next election.
Luna also has another proposal on the table to sharply reduce the criteria needed to be the superintendent of a school district. Schools are probably the most complex of all the local governments. Running a school district is a very difficult task that usually requires considerable training just to deal with the massive and complex state and federal laws under which they operate, let alone understanding the technical details of how the education system works. Luna wants to eliminate the special certifications required and just require a bachelor's degree -- in any subject -- to be enough to run a school district. He's not cutting back on the need to certify principals and other administrators, just superintendents, who could wind up having less training and experience than the people they are supervising.
Before he was elected, Luna often railed against public education. If his proposals before the legislature this year aren't clear proof of an intent to destroy public education, we don't know what it would be. If this passes, start making plans to home-school your kids. And if that doesn't scare you it should -- how good are you at being able to teach advanced algebra? But then, that's probably what Luna wants.
The legislature has two options as we see it. Pass Luna's proposals and let our children suffer the consequences for years to come, or reject it and adopt, at a minimum, the same budgets approved last year. The FY 2010 funding was hardly a great budget for education, but it's still a lot better than what's been proposed this year.
If anyone in the legislature thinks Luna's plan has merit, then provide additional funding for some pilot programs, to be distributed to different-sized school districts around the state, to find out where the landmines are. Right now, we don't know whether this would work or not, although it doesn't seem likely. But we'd rather send a platoon into the minefield to find out how bad it is, rather than blindly throwing the entire army at it.
This plan is an attack on public education, would be disadvantageous to students and simply has not been adequately thought out. The legislature must, under no uncertain terms, reject Luna's plans.