Idaho & Indiana Politicians! — Pass the Ball Back to the Teachers and Parents Who Know What’s What — AND LET THEM RUN WITH IT!

by theschoolprincipal on February 3, 2011

It’s not only Congress that we’re having to educate. Thinking that the situation couldn’t be worse  because it’s become so obvious that Arne and Congress don’t know a thing about education — — but they’re gonna fix NCLB!! — I see now that the craziness about school reform  is spreading like an epidemic from state to state.

Take Idaho and Indiana, for example. Movers and shakers  in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action grassroots movement attended state level  hearings and/or local meetings  in both of those states this week.

Idaho: The state superintendent of schools has named his reform “Students Come First.” Under this plan all 9th graders will be issued laptops and will be issued 6 credits for mandatory on-line classes. The cost will be offset by the attrition of 1000 teachers (meaning that teachers will not be replaced), increasing class size, and a pay for performance plan modeled after Florida’s, with  no continuing contracts.

To quote Victoria Young, Save Our Schools parent from Idaho: “Insanity at its best.  The state superintendent’s last name is Luna…and this is LUNACY…we may get some marchers [for the July 30 D.C. march] from Idaho after all….a state to watch!”

I suppose that if Idaho’s state coffers are overflowing and the state superintendent wants to give technology a whirl, then he can experiment and try out his idea. But by raising class sizes and getting rid of teachers and programs,what  he’s really saying is that teachers aren’t important in the scheme of things.

Well, if you work in the trenches, you know that it’s teachers who make sure that kids are learning. A lotta times it ain’t pretty. They oversee. They push. They prod. They insist. They follow up. Oh sure. About 10% -20%  of our students are self-motivated and have enough background or smarts to figure things out for themselves.

But that’s not how most of them arrive at our door. Call it American culture or what you will, it doesn’t matter. It is what is. Teachers matter. Sorry– but human nature, when allowed, will sink to the lowest level. Teachers won’t and don’t allow that to happen. So students end up  learning in spite of themselves.

How much research has Mr. Luna done on the topic of online learning? My experience has been that if you give the typical 9th grader a silk purse, he will turn it into a sow’s ear. A 12th grader? No.  12th graders mature a lot in four years. A 9th grader?  LOL. Sooooo much money  and time is going to be wasted on those computers. Most 9th graders simply don’t have the maturity to take advantage of this opportunity. They won’t do the work. I’m sure Mr. Luna believes his ideas are right in line with the 21st century and that he’s at the forefront of the next wave of educational innovation. His pie in the sky idea would be funny — except that most of Idaho’s 9th graders will end up next June needing to make up 6 credits. They will be two classes behind as they start their sophomore year. Could Mr. Luna try his idea in one or two schools and see if his idea holds water before making a decision that will affect Idaho’s entire Class of 2015? Guess not. He didn’t learn from No Child Left Behind that big sweeping solutions applied to every school in the nation [or in his state] are not the answer. These solutions end up being the next problem!

UPDATE! Feb. 5 Idaho News: Luna has introduced a bill in the state legislature that will allow school districts to hire superintendents with no background in education. This comes directly out of the BROAD Foundation’s philosophy. The BROAD Foundation (part of the Billionaire Boys’ Club) funds the training of businessmen for positions as school administrators. It’s happening all over the country. Luna has obviously bought into it. This idea of turning schools into businesses will play itself out and self-destruct — but in the meantime, chaos will reign, money and time will be wasted, and, worst of all, our students?  — it hurts me to think about them.

Could it be worse? Well, yes, if one of the players is planning on running for
President. He has to do something bold to appeal to his political base and show them what he’s made of. And any time that we  mix education and politics, the outcome is never pretty:

INDIANA Poor Indiana. You  guys don’t stand a chance until the next election cycle. Somebody important  prefers to use kids and teachers to advance his own personal goals. And teachers right now make such easy pickings with a public that does not have a clue.

To paraphrase Cindi Pastore, an Indiana teacher who is heavily involved in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action: The state superintendent, Tony Bennett,  and the Governor, Mitch Daniels, are in lock-step together, and Mr. Daniels has his heart set on being a Republican candiate for President next election. So all of his policies are in keeping with the ideas of the idealogues in his base concerning   merit pay, taking away collective bargaining, evaluations based on growth models, etc.  When it came time for Indiana to submit its Race to the Top application to D.C., the two of them unilaterally (meaning no input from teachers and parents in the trenches),  put together a proposal and almost the day before submitting it to Washington, gave it to the Indiana State Teachers Association (in a public meeting with press) and told them to sign off on it — without giving them a chance to read it and think about it.  The ISTA refused. When Indiana didn’t win the first round Race to the Top award, the Governer announced that the reason Indiana didn’t win was because the ISTA would not cooperate and give its support. He didn’t take responsibility for bypassing valuable input or waiting till the last minute to get Indiana teachers’ backing.  Oh no. He went so far as to say publicly that the ISTA had been given the chance for input and refused and that based on the ISTA’s lack of cooperation, we would not go forward with the 2nd round bid. [Rejoice, Indiana, you really don’t want Race to the Top anyway.]

With the midterm elections, the Indiana state legislature has now switched from Democrat control to Republican control.  Before the legislature right now are bills to limit collective bargaining and  to change to a merit pay system.  The ISTA is holding state and area rallies.   Daniels continues to sniper fire at the ISTA every step of the way.

State after state it’s the same story: the dismantling and destruction of our two centuries-old public school system. Remember that if we remove the scores of American schools with high poverty student  populations  from the  2009  international PISA scores, American 15 year old’s have the highest reading scores in the world. Yet we continue to throw the baby out with the bath water. Can this nightmare be real? Will it ever end? The only way for it to be over is for Congress to refuse to reauthorize No Child Left Behind and to reauthorize ESEA as it was previously with Title 1 and IDEA. Do away with Race to  the Top. Get the federal government out of school reform and return schools back to local control. Is state control local enough? Obviously not when you look at Idaho and Indiana. But the state level is much more responsive to parents and educators than the feds. Is local control, meaning local communities THE solution? Of course not. But again, local school boards are responsive to parents, teachers, and courageous principals. The answer is NOT to have mayors in charge of education, i.e., Bloomberg in NYC. Educators and parents should be leading the school reform movement — not politicians.

But, other than parents and educators, no one is listening.

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