BURLEY – A modest crowd attended a Republican Party sponsored question and answer session about propositions 1, 2 and 3 Tuesday, with Idaho’s first lady, Mrs. Lori Otter present to answer questions.
The presentation was held in the King Fine Arts Center Little Theatre, and included a PowerPoint presentation as well as a question and answer opportunity. The discussion dealt with upcoming ballot measures that are attempting to undo the ‘Luna Laws’ regarding education reform in Idaho.
One irony Otter spoke of was her original desire to stay neutral on the reforms, “But then I saw the debate and it was game on,” Otter said.
Otter said it is interesting that the laws are being referred to as the ‘Luna Laws’ as he was never allowed to vote on their acceptance. She enlightened the crowd with her qualifications as an educator, referring to her days as a PE, Health and English teacher in the Meridian School District. Otter told the crowd she also spent time as a school principal and understood the educators’ fears with the changes in the way teacher performance is measured.
Idaho’s goal is that every student graduates from high school and goes on to postsecondary education without needing remediation. The problem with education historically has been that many students get to college unprepared and are forced to take sub college credit courses to catch up.
Education reform in Idaho is based on putting students first by adopting high academic standards and giving students advanced opportunities. Otter listed each proposition separately, highlighting the positives each creates.
Parents have input on teacher evaluations. Tenure is phased out and contract negotiations occur in open, public meetings. The only things allowable for discussion at that level are teacher salary and health benefits. The local districts would handle all other issues, such as vacation days, school schedules, etc.
Implements a teacher ‘pay for performance’ plan. Teachers earn bonus pay tied to student academic growth. Teachers that also take on leadership positions in their schools would be paid accordingly.
High school juniors and seniors can earn up to a year’s worth of college credit – paid for by the state. (up to 36 credits) Every classroom has the technology to ensure that every student has access to quality teachers and courses, no matter where they live.
Otter explained the importance of students learning how to use technology, telling the audience eighty five percent of college classes have a digital component. Failing to prepare our students to use technology would be a monumental failure, she explained.
Opponents of computers in the classroom say that ‘laptops don’t give hugs,’ to which Otter agrees. Laptops or other digital devices are being introduced to enhance educational opportunities for students, a benefit that aids teachers by opening up new resources they can use in teaching in their classrooms.
The ‘Luna Laws’ are all designed around paying teachers for performance. Student achievement is judged by measuring the academic level in which a student starts the school year and, later, comparing where that same student finishes the year. This method, say proponents of education reform, allow a teacher to move each student forward, measuring individual performance.
Education reform isn’t easy, says Otter. “It’s not about what’s always best for teachers; it’s what’s best for students. It’s not easy to hear but it is what’s best.”
Opponents of education reform are spending substantial sums to get Props 1, 2 and 3 defeated in the November election. Television ads show clumsy students dropping computers, spilling drinks on keyboards and otherwise demonstrating that they are incapable of caring for computers.
“I am deeply offended as a teacher by that ad that insinuates that my high school student or my kids wouldn’t or couldn’t take care of their laptop,” said Otter. “The majority of kids will rise to the occasion and will follow the expectations that are set.”
Otter also made it clear what she felt about those promoting students’ inability to be responsible. “I think anyone who has their expectations set so low for our kids really needs to rethink what they are doing,” she said.
In Maine, where kids have had computers for the past six years, breakage was as low as 1.2 percent after students were allowed to personalize their computers. Teachers, however, had double the number of lost, stolen or broken computers.
Answering questions about teacher compensation, Otter explained that the average teacher salary in Idaho is $43,000 per year, not including the value of benefits. The average worker in Idaho earns $35,000 per year and that may or may not include health benefits. The inference is that Idaho teachers are not underpaid. During the remainder of the question and answer period Otter answered questions.
There aren’t enough textbooks, are computers more important than books? To this question Otter described a health book she used as a resource when she taught that was ten years old. Computer software, she countered, could be updated virtually on demand, ultimately saving schools money.
Why do away with tenure? “Because it makes it pretty hard to fire [failing] teachers,” says Otter. She admitted it sounds harsh, but students need to come first.
How will student performance be evaluated? Otter’s response -“By student growth, where they come in – where they leave.”
Do any of these laws require additional tax dollars? “No,” said Otter. Though only a third of the students were given computers in this first year of the program, budgets going forward will include the money for future computer purchases without an increase in taxes, she explained.
Will teachers just start teaching for the test? When you start talking about testing and growth, you have to start somewhere, otherwise how are you going to judge it, said Otter. “Don’t all teachers teach their students what curriculum will be on their tests?”
Would you talk about standardized testing and pay for performance? Otter’s reply “Pay for performance for me isn’t a bad thing because if you are a teacher, your job is to teach kids, and if you teach kids, they will grow. It would be a deal breaker for me if it was on proficiency.”
“Proficiency is having every kid come into your class knowing what they’re supposed to know, and we know that never happens, but it is amazing how with the young mind kids can grow. . . . if you move kids and can demonstrate that your methods work and you are moving kids, you should be rewarded for it.”
Otter admitted that the education reforms include a lot of change at once. “Some people’s toes got stepped on and some of our professionals didn’t feel they had been consulted enough,” said Otter. “We are way behind the curve, way behind, and we need to move forward.”
Existing education law reform has been on the books for 18 months says Otter. Eighty five percent of Idaho teachers qualified for bonuses this past year, which says a lot, Otter explained. “It’s time to move on.”