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Richard Larsen: YES on Idaho’s Innovative Education Reform

October 18th, 2012 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

There are three Propositions on the general election ballot in Idaho. If all three receive a majority vote, the measures, which were originally passed by the Idaho Legislature last year, will remain on the books and will begin the process of innovatively ameliorating the quality of public instruction across the state. The Wall Street Journal called these measures “the nation’s most sweeping education reform.”

The three Propositions are on the ballot because the education establishment, and especially the Idaho teacher union, the Idaho Education Association, opposes the measures and were able to garner sufficient signatures to place them on the ballot for Idaho voter approval. They are more sweeping in nature than any state’s education reform measures, including elimination of tenure, limitation of collective bargaining to salary and pensions only, increased parental involvement, pay-for-performance, technology in the classroom including distance learning and mobile computing devices for Idaho’s high school students, and transparency of the entire education apparatus. With little commentary, let’s examine what each of the measures on the ballot address.

Proposition 1 does primarily three things. It allows for parents to have input on teacher evaluations, phases out tenure for educators, and mandates that contract negotiations be conducted in open meetings.

A supportive and involved parent largely determines the academic success of a student. Including parental involvement in teacher evaluations will foster a more synergistic relationship between the teacher and the parent, with the predictable outcome of additional parental involvement and children who perform better academically.

Teacher tenure is preserved for those who already have it. Tenure is an obstacle for school districts and administrators to work around when faced with reductions in force. Phasing out tenure allows increased flexibility to retain the best teachers, regardless of seniority or tenure. This is clearly in the best interest of students and academic performance, but is also the major objection teachers have to the Students Come First legislation.

Collective bargaining is limited to matters pertaining to salary and benefits. In the past they could negotiate as part of the contract bell schedule, school calendar, teacher evaluations, and grading methods. This gives the local school board more flexibility and latitude in those peripheral issues without jeopardizing salary and benefit negotiations.

Contract negotiations have sailed through with few exceptions, since the open-meeting negotiations law went into effect. Everyone involved in such negotiations behaves more circumspectly when the public eye is on them.

Proposition 2 implements Pay for Performance (PFP) incentives for teachers, allowing for bonuses based on one of three criteria. The minimum teacher salary was raised and a funding mechanism added to increase the minimum salary in the future. The current salary apportionment grid for teachers with longevity and added educational credits is maintained.

PFP provides extra compensation for teachers who serve in hard-to-fill positions, like calculus teachers in small school districts, or leadership roles, like mentoring new teachers or developing curriculum. This comes as a bonus to those teachers on top of their pay grid compensation. The local school board determines hard-to-fill positions and the extra compensation.

PFP also allows for teachers to earn bonuses beyond their base salary for meeting or exceeding student achievement goals at the state and local levels. This will provide for the entire certified staff of a school to receive bonus pay when their school is showing growth in student achievement. Local school boards set local student achievement goals for bonus participation. Bonuses will be paid to nearly 85% of Idaho’s teachers next month, based on last year’s performance.
Proposition 3 allows for high school juniors and seniors to earn up to a years worth of college credit, and provides for technology in the classroom as well as individually to students. In addition, new standards of transparency and public disclosure are required of school districts.

All local school boards and school districts must be totally transparent in fiscal matters, including master contracts and associated information. Further, the State Department of Education will create a web-based fiscal report card and will post financial data and statistics for every school district and public charter school.
For teachers who don’t already have a personal computer in their classroom, they will get one. They will also be trained on how to integrate computer technology into the curriculum and into the classroom to raise student achievement. This school year, high school teachers will be provided mobile computing devices.
High school students will be provided access to similar devices. Local districts will determine how best to utilize these devices on a daily basis and teachers will decide how to incorporate them into the learning process. The local boards will also set student-use policy for the mobile devices.

Starting with the graduating class of 2016, students will have some online curriculum. The State Board of Education has determined that two of the 46 credits required to graduate will be completed online, but local districts will determine the curriculum. And the digital learning component allows students in small districts to enjoy the same curriculum breadth of the larger schools.

As taxpayers, Idahoans will benefit by the increased transparency in the disposition of financial resources. Parents of Idaho’s public schools, will by the increased focus on results and achievement, by rewarding schools and teachers for jobs well done. The incorporation of technology in the classroom and online curriculum prepares students for college and the work force, while increasing efficiency from a cost standpoint. And the Students Come First legislation empowers teachers to earn more based on their performance and grants more flexibility and authority to local school boards to manage resources. Everyone should visit the studentscomefirst.org website to learn more.

There is no doubt that each of these measures brings something to the table to improve Idaho’s public education system. All three Propositions should be approved to realize those benefits, and may well set a precedent for education reform across the nation.

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