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Apr 9 / editor

END OF A CHAPTER

Now is the time!   On many occasions in the past few years I have used that phrase to start an article for this blog “Choice in Education” that is posted today for the last time.  As I stop the blog articles I am also ending my role with the Political Action Committee “Idahoans for Choice in Education (ICE-PAC),” which has been active for the past ten years.  By way of the blog and ICE-PAC we have been “now is the time” advocates for various school choice options, such as charter schools, home schools, virtual schools and providing parents with education tax credits or vouchers.   Long before the current education trends, we were advocates for education choice, performance pay for teachers, reforming teacher contract law and the greater use of technology to deliver learning opportunities to our students and teachers.  Most recently we have been a vocal supporters of State Superintendent Tom Luna and his efforts to improve Idaho schools.   Most of these trends or issues are outside of the education mainstream.   Residing outside of the mainstream of education has had its costs, as I know my positions, being contrary to the beliefs of many former education associates have tested some friendships.  That is truly unfortunate and if there was any real down-side to my education activities since I left the Senate a decade ago that is it.  It is unfortunate because I truly believe that the education goals of most mainstream educators are the same as mine, making education opportunities for Idaho students exemplary.   Where we differ is the route we must take to achieve that goal.  That difference is the crux of the education debate today where school improvement advocates such as yours truly are pushing for major changes, while many mainstream educators continue to protect the status-quo in every way possible.    In spite of this heavy resistance to change at nearly every turn, the school reformers have made much headway.  However, we still have a long, long way to go.   The greatest change in the past ten years in the delivery of education opportunity to students has been education choice.   Not so long ago home schooling was actually “against the law.” Charter schools were in their infancy, virtual schools non-existent and the debate about tuition tax credits and education vouchers occurred only behind closed doors, and few legislators would even consider advancing legislation dealing with teacher contract law or labor issues.

Now, just a few years later, what is the status of education in Idaho?     Parents are free to educate their children at home as Idaho does not regulate or monitor home school activities.  Today, thousands of Idaho parents are enjoying this education choice option and using a myriad of on-line and other programs to facilitate their very successful home school programs.

Charter schools over the past decade have grown from just a handful of schools and a few hundred students to what we have today: 44 schools, enrolling over 160,000 students.  With thousands still on waiting lists, and if the past is a good indicator, 10 years from now we should see these schools double in numbers.  In addition, Idaho’s charter school law has been improved greatly over that period, now with no cap as to numbers, a charter school commission, expansion of authorizers and, most recently state support for charter school facilities.

Providing tax credits for contributions for education purposes, a no-no for years, actually passed the House this legislative session although unfortunately, it was defeated in a Senate Committee.

Now, with Governor Otter advocating school reform along with State Superintendent Luna,  and with the  leadership of both the House and Senate Education committees “on-board,” the future looks a lot brighter for Idaho students.

Through our Political Action Committee, I am proud to have had a role in many of these changes and, while not having an official part to play, I intend to continue to be an advocate for education choice and an improved Idaho school system.

 

 

 

 

Mar 4 / editor

If You Could Do Just One Thing….

If our policy makers could only do one thing while in office to improve our State what would it be?  Improving our schools has to be a high priority, for it is our schools which are preparing our future legislators, our future teachers, our future business leaders, and the future for all.

Now, what one thing could you do to improve our schools?  First of all, who are the stakeholders to our k-12 education system?  Few would argue that those stakeholders are our parents, our taxpayers, our teachers and administrators and of course our elected school board members.  Further, few would argue that all of those stakeholders would do almost anything to make their schools the best they could be.   Still further, few would argue that the most important element in school improvement is to have the best possible teacher in every classroom.  There is no doubt that being able to assemble a high performing teaching faculty in every school is the true avenue to improved schools.

All of those stakeholders are probably in full agreement, so why is that not happening today?  It is because all of those stakeholders, although they are probably unanimous in their desires, are held back by the greatest hurdle to school improvement.  It is the most contentious and controversial of any possible legislative proposal, however it is one that the majority of the Idaho electorate supports.  Had that single issue been on the ballot last November, I probably would not be writing about it today.

What is the solution?  What is the “Silver Bullet?”   What is it that the recent past president of the IEA stated, “we will never give up!”  While performance pay is important as well as all of the new technologies and so are a host of other issues that legislators find on their agenda each year, but all are pale in comparison to the real issue that is holding back the true route to school improvement.  If we had a high performing teacher in every classroom we would not even be concerned about negotiated agreements, performance pay or computers for kids.  The real impediment that stands in the way of school boards and administrators to place an excellent teacher in every classroom is the RENEWABLE CONTRACT LAW!

That is the number one hurdle to school improvement facing all of the stakeholders, It is a law that protects the worst of our teaching staff and diminishes the value of our best! We can’t continue to Ignore what most Idahoans know, that tenure, (renewable contract) for teachers is detrimental to our kids?

While this issue is not up for debate this session it is hoped that the Governor’s task force will tackle it head–on.  The solution is not necessarily an outright repeal of the law as there are other alternatives that would give school boards greater flexibility in the process of reaching that goal of having a great teacher in every classroom. Hopefully, the task force will come back next January with a strong recommendation to deal with this most critical issue.

“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”  Abraham

Lincoln

Feb 24 / editor

ISBA CRITICISM UNFAIR!

A recent letter to the editor in this newspaper charged the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) with “betraying the American way,” I believe the letter, written by a Caldwell teacher, is relevant to the education issues that our legislature is considering today.  It reflects the opinion of many teacher union members and perhaps some legislators as well. read more…

Feb 11 / editor

IDAHO CHARTER SCHOOLS A BOON FOR TAXPAYERS

On February 6, the Coalition of Charter School Families hosted Capitol Day at the Legislature.   It was a great event, well received by all, and achieved its primary purpose of familiarizing new and returning legislators of the important role that charter schools play in Idaho’s k-12 education system.   However, charter schools still have their opponents.  Many traditional school leaders are critical of charter schools. Most recently Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune downplayed the event as well as the importance of charter schools.   Instead of being critical of charter schools those education leaders and editorial writers ought to be championing the charter school movement because they, simply put, do more with less! However, that is not likely to happen as charter schools represent competition to the education monopoly. The true champions of charter schools will only come from our elected leaders who recognize the importance of school choice and who will advance rules and policies that support the growth of charter schools in Idaho rather than stifle it. read more…

Feb 4 / editor

SOME GOOD LEGISLATION

SB 1037….All agreements shall have a one year duration.  Any of these union/district agreements shall not exceed one year as they only serve to bind leaders to agreements in which they had no role.  It is similar to legislation passed in 2011 that limited agreements to one year but also limited what could be negotiated.   SB1037 does NOT provide such limitations.  If the union wishes to place on the bargaining table their concerns about class-size, they can do that.  If they want to bargain for enhanced student safety, they can do that.  The only limitation is to the term of the agreement.   Good bill should pass! read more…

Jan 22 / editor

Do Not Stop Now!

Not long ago Governor Otter said he was in favor of continuing the effort to reform our Idaho school system. He cited a recent poll that indicated that Idahoans in general were in favor of many of the components of the recent reform efforts that failed at the polls last November. Superintendent Luna also said he was in favor of advancing some school reform legislation in the next legislative session, calling the recent defeat of propositions 1,2 and 3 as a “bump in the road.” read more…

Jan 13 / editor

What’s the Problem?

Since the school reform efforts started back with the 2011 legislature I have heard from time to time people asking the question, “what is the problem, aren’t our schools doing OK.”  In some cases they might be doing OK, but is OK good enough?  However, in many cases they are failing our students, our parents and the people who pay the bills, the Idaho taxpayer. What is wrong and why do we need these reform measures?   Let’s start with our high school graduation rate. In a recent issue of the Press Tribune in Nampa it was reported in a very prominent article some phenomenal graduation rates. Specifically, it was reported that  in nearly every high school in Canyon County the graduation rate 97% or better.  If that were true it is easy to understand why some people ask  “what is the problem?  However, it is not true as the true graduation rate may be actually less than 80% in some of our Canyon County high schools. That dismal graduation rate is certainly one reason why we need to reform and improve our schools. However, there are many more. read more…

Dec 17 / editor

Not Sot Fast!

The media reported recently that Governor Otter is in favor of continuing the effort to reform our Idaho school system. He had cited a recent poll that indicated that Idahoans in general were in favor of many of the components of the recent reform efforts that failed at the polls last November. Superintendent Luna also is in favor of advancing some school reform legislation in the next legislative session, calling the recent defeat of propositions 1,2 and 3 as a “bump in the road.” read more…

Dec 5 / editor

Students Come First!

That has been the “motto” of the school reform movement for the past 2 or 3 years in many States including Idaho.  It is an appropriate motto because that is what schools are about, the students not the adults.   However, perhaps an even better motto would be to add the word, “achievement,” then it not only defines who the schools are for as well as their purpose.  So, now if we use the motto, “Student Achievement Comes First,” and frame every school reform proposal with that mission in mind we might come to better conclusions. Few would argue that schools are for students and the purpose of schools is for students to achieve the intended curriculum. read more…

Nov 8 / editor

Round One The Union Won, Now What?

I posed a question a week ago on this blog:  what if the union wins?  Well they did and they won big time, a land-slide victory, especially proposition 3!   In that article I also answered my own question by suggesting that school reform will not be dead, nor should it.   Whether or not the union wins, school reform will still be on the legislative agenda come January 7th. The relevant question now is, what shape will school reform take?   The legislature could simply enact the same laws again, thus keeping all laws on the books as they were just days ago.   However, that scenario is highly unlikely, especially in regard to the new laws contained in proposition three, which was defeated by a two to one margin. read more…