While most people are focusing their attention on the presidential election, there are some who are more focused on homegrown matters–issues that are also on the ballot, effecting life right here in Idaho. One of the most popular issue being proposed are Propositions 1, 2 and 3 or the “Luna Laws.”
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, has been in the news a lot recently and the state is in a furor, not really knowing how to handle the giant changes Luna is calling upon for the entire Idaho school system in a reform program called “Students Come First.”
Propositions 1, 2 and 3 are the proposals to repeal the laws, which were put forward by Luna last year, and signed off by Gov. Butch Otter, who was an outspoken supporter of all three bills. The propositions are a way for the public in Idaho to have a say on whether these laws should be repealed or not.
Senate Bill 1108 is a bill that removes the collective bargaining rights for teachers. Essentially, it would roll back the power of the teacher’s union, allowing the administration to make more crucial decisions.
This bill removes the ability to have professional negotiations between the teachers and administration about things such as class size, lesson planning and basic funding for the classrooms. And rather than having private contractual negotiations, the teacher’s contracts would be discussed in an open meeting format. It also removes academic tenure, which is the contractual right for a teacher to remain at work without being removed with just cause; just cause not being poor performance, but usually criminal actions.
Luna proposes teachers should remain teachers based strictly on merit. So the teachers whose classes are doing poorly have less of a chance of sticking around. Parents would also have input on how they think the teacher is doing.
The teacher’s union will have less power in the classrooms, but some people do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.
The Idaho teacher’s union was ranked nationally at 36th in strength in a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now, a prominent anti-union organization.
“I am not sure the teacher’s union is as pristine as they are trying to portray,” said Laura Ross, a retired 62-year-old. “I think that the union is more worried about losing power, rather than helping the kids.”
As a union ranked low in power it stands to reason the Idaho teacher’s union could be concerned about losing power.
Senate Bill 1110 regulates teacher’s pay directly in accordance with a teacher’s performance, namely through test scores. It also allows bonus pay for teachers who meet a few special circumstances. Working to fill positions, or by taking on leadership responsibilities at the school and helping to build curriculum and mentor new teachers are a few ways teachers will be able to earn bonus pay. The only drawback being the teachers may have less say in the lesson plans used in their classrooms.
Senate Bill 1184 is the big one. It has sparked the most discussion in Idaho and has been the forerunner in the media, representing all of the Luna Laws. This bill proposes to update the technology in all of the classrooms in Idaho. It also requires high school students to complete mandated online courses before they graduate. The bill will provide all students with “mobile electronic devices” (laptops), in order to adapt to the new technological advances in the classrooms, as well as the mandatory online courses.
“I’ve heard it’s taking control away from the teachers,” said Sierra Tuttle, a senior English major. “Internet use changes the way you learn and the way your brain functions, but it’s kind of inevitable.”
However, being able to take online classes provides junior and senior high school students with ways to achieve college credits before graduation, which could allow them to gain a foothold on what they want to do for the future. With all of the technological advances in the past 20 years, proponents of this bill say this is just natural progression.
Sophomore Hamilton Flake, a mechanical engineer major, said he thinks the laptops will provide “better technology, (making it) more interactive for students, giving better access to students.” But he also said, “the mandatory online classes, I don’t think will be as beneficial as they think, most students won’t take advantage, (but) it will help a lot of seniors who do take advantage of it, getting college credits toward their degrees.”
However, contradictory to some assumptions, the issue is the fact that these online classes are mandatory, students have to take them. While the computers are being provided, one question which may arise is, what do students do if they do not have an in home internet service provider?
Senior Amanda Horne has other concerns regarding the online classes, “I don’t think kids should have to take online classes, I had to take Math 108 online and since I didn’t actually have a teacher, I didn’t do as well.”
Another controversy sparked by the debate was the decision for local company Hewitt-Packard to manufacture all of the laptops, with state-awards of $180 million over an eight-month period. Almost 7,000 computers are already set to go directly into the classrooms at the start of the next school semester and Tom Luna said if any of the bills are repealed, his program will continue to move forward.
Idaho voters seem strained to choose a side, as there can be benefits to both.
Some voters say these bills are just a step in replacing teachers with computers, as the online classes will have much larger class sizes then the traditional classroom setting, allowing the school to retain money they would have otherwise spent on teacher’s pay.
Adding fuel to the flame are the ads that have appeared on radio and TV, even on YouTube.
Lori Otter, Idaho’s first lady has even appeared in a radio ad, stating her support of the bills. Mrs. Otter was once a public school teacher herself and supports Luna’s “Students Come First Plan” because she believes it gives all students learning advantages and ways to prepare for the 21st century.
Boise State English professor Jeffrey Wilhelm said in an e-mail, “These reform measures are regressive. They are the most misguided pieces of legislation, totally ideological, and not supported by any research in cognitive science, educational practice or policy. It will be a very bad thing for teachers, students, schools and our future if they are not overturned.”
Voters have a big decision come Nov. 6.
Should they reject the innovative, but radical school reform, which embraces technology as a way to bridge the gap between students and teachers? Or should they accept it and allow schools to become less traditional, with the potential for fewer teachers, who are paid based on their own merit for teaching a specific program to a specific test, with added concern based on the potential for raised taxes and money which the new technology will cost?
Think hard Idaho, this decision will affect every growing child in our state for years to come.