We've been highly critical of the Luna Plan, adopted by a myopic and anti-education legislation last year, which calls for cuts in educational spending this year and in each of the next four years.
Originally, the intent was to replace trained teachers with computer chips and software. Somehow, this was going to improve education and save the state money.
But if anything has proven that Luna's plan wasn't thought out in advance, nor understood by an anti-public education legislature, it's been the failure to implement the plan. Instead, the details of how to do that were passed off to the state board of education and a commission to figure out how to make it work.
The first thing they did was delay everything (except the funding cutbacks).
There are no laptops in the hands of every high school student this fall, as had been promised. The conditions and criteria for how to use them -- what online classes would be provided to replace the teachers -- is still in flux, but being scaled back considerably. In fact, they're being scaled back to a point that it's not really cost-effective at all (if it ever was) to provide each kid with a portable computer. From two online classes a year to one every two years, which is the current recommendation, buying every kid a laptop seems to be a massive waste of precious tax dollars that could have been used to hire teachers instead (or at least keep the ones we had before the cutbacks).
Meanwhile, the state has lost 800 teachers without the promised technology to replace them, and class sizes all over Idaho have climbed significantly. It's well known that the more students a teacher has in a class, the less time the teacher can spend with each student helping them learn. Higher class sizes mean less learning. But no one cared what the educators thought.
So, strangely enough, the only thing worse than the Luna Plan was not implementing it. Right now, school districts have the worst of both worlds.
Not that the legislature particularly cares. For the last three years they've been setting up public education to fail and then declaring that a "broken system" (it wasn't before they started tinkering with it) justifies deeper and deeper cuts in education and a scatterbrained revision of the entire educational structure. This type of thinking would not pass a basic course in logic. But it does pass some strange political test.
It will get worse. This spring, the legislature will make every junior take the SAT tests, usually given only to students whose grades made them college eligible. Test scores almost certainly will fall. The legislature will point to the falling scores as proof the system is broken and only they can fix it (by more funding cuts and larger class sizes across the state). Bet on it.
Give it about three more years and the entire public education system is going to functionally collapse.
But you can blame the educators, in part, for this. They've been reactive, not pro-active, and their dealings with the legislature have, at best, been clumsy.
Nobody knows more about how to teach kids than educators. There are some very smart people out there in the education community who have studied the best ways to help students learn. All across the country, limited model programs are showing what can be done.
What the school administrators and teachers need to do is get together and create their own blue ribbon blueprint for the future, a fiscally sound plan to actually improve education for the needs of the 21st century.
Then, when the legislature's idiotic approach to education becomes a proven failure (unfortunately), a well thought out and researched plan of action will be available to be offered as an alternative.
But they need to do it now -- while there are still schools and teachers left to put it together.