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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Luna's plan is a lemon, so how do we make lemonade?

Posted Wednesday, March 9, 2011, at 9:03 AM

"America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week."

Evan Esar was, of course, being sarcastic when he wrote that, because that statement probably hasn't been true for a hundred years.

But teaching truly is a calling, and we rely on teachers to help mold our children into competent adults. It's not unusual for teachers to actually spend more time with our children than parents do. If you ask a person who were the most influential people in their lives, almost everyone would put a teacher on their list.

They are special people.

So how did they suddenly become the bad guys?

Why have they become the scapegoats for budget cutters? It's not like they're paid all that much to begin with. They earn decent, but not great, salaries. Most members of the legislature, for example, earn far more than a teacher. In fact, it's not unusual for the cars in the student parking lot at a high school or college to look better and newer than those in the faculty parking.

Teachers obviously aren't in it for the money. If you ask a teacher why they do it, most will tell you it's for the love of what they do. Which explains why so many use their own money to help pay for some of their supplies. How many of us would do that in our own jobs?

All of which, I guess, makes them easy targets to be beat up by politicians. No matter how much they get hammered, most of them are still going to do the work.

The hypocrisy of the politicians toward teachers, however, is unbelievable, and Superintendent of Education Tom Luna is one of the worst -- with the able support of the legislature.

He calls teachers our most precious resource, but wants to cut between 770 and 800 teachers in the state and replace them with a soulless computer screen.

Flying in the face of all studies and common sense, he wants to increase the number of students in classes and thinks education will be improved.

He ran last fall for re-election on the platform that education had gotten better under his watch, then turned around and claimed the system was broken and needed massive reform.

Despite overwhelming opposition to his plan, he and the legislature are moving forward as if the voices of those objecting had no sound.

The plan is being "tweaked" in the legislature right now, but its essence will almost certainly be passed, since the legislature seems to know more about education than school administrators, teachers, parents and students. The number of on-line classes a student will be required to take is being scaled back from eight credits to either four or six. Students will no longer be given the computers, they'll be the property of the school (which can be a good thing, but I'll explain that later).

Of the $24 million he's taking away from paying for teachers, about $11 million will go for the laptops and the rest will be used for tech support and software, which was one of the questions that hadn't been answered earlier.

We're still not sure who will be buying the software. Will each district be responsible for determining what software will be used, or will the state do it?

If the state does it, they'll be determining what classes will be taught (so much for local control). If the districts do it, they'll have to scramble to decide what classes will be taught on-line, find vendors and negotiate contracts. Their control over the instructor at the other end of the software will be minimal, at best, whereas right now they have pretty much absolute control over who is teaching their classes.

It's interesting that school districts will still be responsible for the performance of their students, but will have little say in who is doing the teaching. But maybe, if the districts are responsible, they can select classes that don't interfere with the types of credits major colleges will accept, at least partially mitigating concerns that some colleges won't accept an Idaho high school diploma because they don't recognize on-line credits. Maybe.

Over and over again you hear students who have taken on-line classes say they are not as good as having a teacher in the classroom. For example, if a student has a question, they have to wait for an e-mail reply, which can take days, rather than having a teacher in the classroom who can answer it right away and make sure they understand the answer.

Under Luna's plan, the state is committing itself to constantly replacing computers and software. In the past, it did that with textbooks, but for the second year in a row Luna has put no money in the state education budget for textbooks, which are a lot cheaper and last longer than computers. At a time of budget constraints, we are being committed to a program of higher costs than what we have now -- in the name of saving money. But then, this legislature is often penny wise and pound foolish.

And look at what it costs to teach a student on-line. The Idaho Virtual Academy, the state's on-line charter school, gets significantly more money from the state, per student, than "regular" districts get, despite having much less "brick and mortar" and support staff to pay for. Therefore, by the state's own appropriations standard, it costs more to educate a student on-line than it does to have a teacher in a classroom. But Luna claims his plan will save money. Something here isn't making sense.

Luna wants to "take us into the future," but under his plan you see school district after school district in the state -- and Mountain Home is no exception -- preparing to "turn back the clock" to fewer elective programs and less innovative ways of teaching. They're going back to what they had 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. All the progress made in developing curriculum over those years is being thrown away.

Luna's proposals also eliminate teacher tenure and sharply restrict collective bargaining for teachers to only wages and benefits.

Tenure is more an illusion of job stability than a reality. It simply takes more paperwork to fire a teacher with tenure than it does to fire one without it, but if districts want to get rid of a tenured teacher, they already can.

The legislature has always been anti-union, so the collective bargaining constraints aren't a surprise. But no matter how much the Idaho Education Association (the state arm of the teachers' unions) likes to think it's important, it really doesn't have much clout in Idaho (no unions do), and only slightly more than half the teachers belong to the union, anyway.

I guess I don't have any problems with teachers being able to negotiate for workplace conditions and grievance policies, which the legislature wants to kill. Those policies actually help to smooth out the rough edges between employers and employees. Why the legislature wants to stop that, I really don't know. Teacher strikes in Idaho are pretty rare right now. My guess is, you'll see a dramatic increase in coming years with these changes. What a great plan.

Luna's proposals also want to pay teachers for performance. It sounds like a good idea, but it's extremely difficult to actually come up with a fair system. Why, for example, would a teacher want to teach a remedial class for struggling students? Since they're struggling, they're obviously not doing well, so the teacher stands a good chance they won't be paid as well -- for a class that is desperately needed by some students.

It would be a nightmare for school boards to come up with a fair set of policies and local boards will be left to do that since Luna and the legislature don't have any plan themselves for how to do it. And with each of the 115 school districts in the state having a different plan, any state-wide consistency will go right out the window.

In fact, many of the hard decisions that will result from the impact of Luna's plan are being thrown on the local school districts. This is what the legislature calls local control. Any decision they can't -- or refuse -- to make gets dumped on the local school boards.

This is a lot like Capt. Smith of the Titanic telling the people in the lifeboats to rejoice because they now have "local control" over where they're going.

But since this is going to pass, how do you make lemonade out of lemons?

First of all, every school district in the state would love to have a computer on every desk -- not to replace teachers as Luna wants, but as an adjunct tool, like a blackboard. If the districts can find a way to buy the extra software they'd need, they could take advantage of the extra technology they're being given, although they may have to cut a few more teachers to find the money to do it.

But whereas in the past the legislature always said it was too expensive to buy that many computers, now they're being given to the districts as a "cost-saving" measure. So the districts should take advantage of the opportunity -- if they can afford it.

After the highly suspect on-line classes are taught, those teachers that remain may be able to use this as an opportunity to expand the tools they use to teach -- and that would be a good thing.

Furthermore, as critical as I've been of Luna's plans, there are some areas where they actually may be beneficial.

In small school districts, say 2A or 3A size, where the districts simply can't offer the extra elective classes, on-line classes can actually expand the offerings for students. I strongly believe no computer can replace a teacher in a classroom, but if you don't have a teacher for say, a class in calculus or advanced German, an on-line class is better than nothing.

The larger districts, 4A (like Mountain Home) and higher, have always been able to have the extra classroom teachers for those extra elective classes, so on-line instruction isn't as useful for them -- although it may become a necessity as the legislature's funding levels force them to cut many elective and "enrichment" programs.

As much as I don't like Luna's plans, I have to admit than an objective analysis would suggest small districts might benefit. Larger districts, however, won't.

Perhaps the legislature should scale back this plan to cover only the small districts, while continuing funding for the extra teachers the larger districts have used to teach more than just "core" classes.

I still think, however, that a series of pilot programs should be set up first, to analyze just what will and won't work with Luna's plan. I think a "look before you leap" approach will keep us from jumping off a cliff we won't be able to climb back up.

So perhaps, despite an abundance of lemons in Luna's plan, we can find a way to squeeze out a little bit of lemonade. It may taste bitter, but it will be drinkable, if only barely.

That sour face of parents, students and teachers is the price we'll pay for drinking the anti-education koolaid/lemonade of Luna and the legislature."America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week."

Evan Esar was, of course, being sarcastic when he wrote that, because that statement probably hasn't been true for a hundred years.

But teaching truly is a calling, and we rely on teachers to help mold our children into competent adults. It's not unusual for teachers to actually spend more time with our children than parents do. If you ask a person who were the most influential people in their lives, almost everyone would put a teacher on their list.

They are special people.

So how did they suddenly become the bad guys?

Why have they become the scapegoats for budget cutters? It's not like they're paid all that much to begin with. They earn decent, but not great, salaries. Most members of the legislature, for example, earn far more than a teacher. In fact, it's not unusual for the cars in the student parking lot at a high school or college to look better and newer than those in the faculty parking.

Teachers obviously aren't in it for the money. If you ask a teacher why they do it, most will tell you it's for the love of what they do. Which explains why so many use their own money to help pay for some of their supplies. How many of us would do that in our own jobs?

All of which, I guess, makes them easy targets to be beat up by politicians. No matter how much they get hammered, most of them are still going to do the work.

The hypocrisy of the politicians toward teachers, however, is unbelievable, and Superintendent of Education Tom Luna is one of the worst -- with the able support of the legislature.

He calls teachers our most precious resource, but wants to cut between 770 and 800 teachers in the state and replace them with a soulless computer screen.

Flying in the face of all studies and common sense, he wants to increase the number of students in classes and thinks education will be improved.

He ran last fall for re-election on the platform that education had gotten better under his watch, then turned around and claimed the system was broken and needed massive reform.

Despite overwhelming opposition to his plan, he and the legislature are moving forward as if the voices of those objecting had no sound.

The plan is being "tweaked" in the legislature right now, but its essence will almost certainly be passed, since the legislature seems to know more about education than school administrators, teachers, parents and students. The number of on-line classes a student will be required to take is being scaled back from eight credits to either four or six. Students will no longer be given the computers, they'll be the property of the school (which can be a good thing, but I'll explain that later).

Of the $24 million he's taking away from paying for teachers, about $11 million will go for the laptops and the rest will be used for tech support and software, which was one of the questions that hadn't been answered earlier.

We're still not sure who will be buying the software. Will each district be responsible for determining what software will be used, or will the state do it?

If the state does it, they'll be determining what classes will be taught (so much for local control). If the districts do it, they'll have to scramble to decide what classes will be taught on-line, find vendors and negotiate contracts. Their control over the instructor at the other end of the software will be minimal, at best, whereas right now they have pretty much absolute control over who is teaching their classes.

It's interesting that school districts will still be responsible for the performance of their students, but will have little say in who is doing the teaching. But maybe, if the districts are responsible, they can select classes that don't interfere with the types of credits major colleges will accept, at least partially mitigating concerns that some colleges won't accept an Idaho high school diploma because they don't recognize on-line credits. Maybe.

Over and over again you hear students who have taken on-line classes say they are not as good as having a teacher in the classroom. For example, if a student has a question, they have to wait for an e-mail reply, which can take days, rather than having a teacher in the classroom who can answer it right away and make sure they understand the answer.

Under Luna's plan, the state is committing itself to constantly replacing computers and software. In the past, it did that with textbooks, but for the second year in a row Luna has put no money in the state education budget for textbooks, which are a lot cheaper and last longer than computers. At a time of budget constraints, we are being committed to a program of higher costs than what we have now -- in the name of saving money. But then, this legislature is often penny wise and pound foolish.

And look at what it costs to teach a student on-line. The Idaho Virtual Academy, the state's on-line charter school, gets significantly more money from the state, per student, than "regular" districts get, despite having much less "brick and mortar" and support staff to pay for. Therefore, by the state's own appropriations standard, it costs more to educate a student on-line than it does to have a teacher in a classroom. But Luna claims his plan will save money. Something here isn't making sense.

Luna wants to "take us into the future," but under his plan you see school district after school district in the state -- and Mountain Home is no exception -- preparing to "turn back the clock" to fewer elective programs and less innovative ways of teaching. They're going back to what they had 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. All the progress made in developing curriculum over those years is being thrown away.

Luna's proposals also eliminate teacher tenure and sharply restrict collective bargaining for teachers to only wages and benefits.

Tenure is more an illusion of job stability than a reality. It simply takes more paperwork to fire a teacher with tenure than it does to fire one without it, but if districts want to get rid of a tenured teacher, they already can.

The legislature has always been anti-union, so the collective bargaining constraints aren't a surprise. But no matter how much the Idaho Education Association (the state arm of the teachers' unions) likes to think it's important, it really doesn't have much clout in Idaho (no unions do), and only slightly more than half the teachers belong to the union, anyway.

I guess I don't have any problems with teachers being able to negotiate for workplace conditions and grievance policies, which the legislature wants to kill. Those policies actually help to smooth out the rough edges between employers and employees. Why the legislature wants to stop that, I really don't know. Teacher strikes in Idaho are pretty rare right now. My guess is, you'll see a dramatic increase in coming years with these changes. What a great plan.

Luna's proposals also want to pay teachers for performance. It sounds like a good idea, but it's extremely difficult to actually come up with a fair system. Why, for example, would a teacher want to teach a remedial class for struggling students? Since they're struggling, they're obviously not doing well, so the teacher stands a good chance they won't be paid as well -- for a class that is desperately needed by some students.

It would be a nightmare for school boards to come up with a fair set of policies and local boards will be left to do that since Luna and the legislature don't have any plan themselves for how to do it. And with each of the 115 school districts in the state having a different plan, any state-wide consistency will go right out the window.

In fact, many of the hard decisions that will result from the impact of Luna's plan are being thrown on the local school districts. This is what the legislature calls local control. Any decision they can't -- or refuse -- to make gets dumped on the local school boards.

This is a lot like Capt. Smith of the Titanic telling the people in the lifeboats to rejoice because they now have "local control" over where they're going.

But since this is going to pass, how do you make lemonade out of lemons?

First of all, every school district in the state would love to have a computer on every desk -- not to replace teachers as Luna wants, but as an adjunct tool, like a blackboard. If the districts can find a way to buy the extra software they'd need, they could take advantage of the extra technology they're being given, although they may have to cut a few more teachers to find the money to do it.

But whereas in the past the legislature always said it was too expensive to buy that many computers, now they're being given to the districts as a "cost-saving" measure. So the districts should take advantage of the opportunity -- if they can afford it.

After the highly suspect on-line classes are taught, those teachers that remain may be able to use this as an opportunity to expand the tools they use to teach -- and that would be a good thing.

Furthermore, as critical as I've been of Luna's plans, there are some areas where they actually may be beneficial.

In small school districts, say 2A or 3A size, where the districts simply can't offer the extra elective classes, on-line classes can actually expand the offerings for students. I strongly believe no computer can replace a teacher in a classroom, but if you don't have a teacher for say, a class in calculus or advanced German, an on-line class is better than nothing.

The larger districts, 4A (like Mountain Home) and higher, have always been able to have the extra classroom teachers for those extra elective classes, so on-line instruction isn't as useful for them -- although it may become a necessity as the legislature's funding levels force them to cut many elective and "enrichment" programs.

As much as I don't like Luna's plans, I have to admit than an objective analysis would suggest small districts might benefit. Larger districts, however, won't.

Perhaps the legislature should scale back this plan to cover only the small districts, while continuing funding for the extra teachers the larger districts have used to teach more than just "core" classes.

I still think, however, that a series of pilot programs should be set up first, to analyze just what will and won't work with Luna's plan. I think a "look before you leap" approach will keep us from jumping off a cliff we won't be able to climb back up.

So perhaps, despite an abundance of lemons in Luna's plan, we can find a way to squeeze out a little bit of lemonade. It may taste bitter, but it will be drinkable, if only barely.

That sour face of parents, students and teachers is the price we'll pay for drinking the anti-education koolaid/lemonade of Luna and the legislature.


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I want my niece and nephew to grow up having better education for themselves. The United States is failing in the educational department. Something is wrong and I rather try what he has to propose than what isn't working right now. Because when it comes to the education of my family, it's very important that we have something working. She's six years old and more enthusiastic about school every day. I told her that once she gets out of kindergarten she'll be having to go school longer because she'll be moving up in the grade and all she can say is "Yay!!"

Look I know what people are getting at when they say they don't want computers teaching their children. Right now I'm behind in school because of the choices I made, I didn't want to go to school and so I was put on probation. I'm in the tenth grade and I'm eighteen years old and currently going to online school that's working wonderfully. I was on an IEP when I was in Hacker middle school and junior high school. I'm not on an IEP, and I'm doing something I enjoy in school. Civics and Sociology, with the basic courses of biology and math. I want to thank my teacher who was with me in the Middle school and junior high school, who warned me about the poor decisions I made and now I understand the importance of a good education.

Last year I learned how to make a resume and learned more about the business world to prepare myself. I got a B+ in there and it was wonderful.

I want my niece and nephew to experience a work of art when they smile up at their teachers. Learning about new things and craving to learn even more.

-- Posted by CharlesHarris on Fri, Mar 11, 2011, at 11:08 PM


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