Education Reform in Idaho

, Jocelyn Grecko, Leave a comment

According to Tom Luna, Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, his state “chose to act, instead of being acted upon” when it came to education.

At the Heritage Foundation recently, Luna and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) explained that success in schools all comes down to one thing: choice.

Years ago, prior to serving in Congress, Bishop taught civics classes at high schools in his home state. He says it was those years that helped inform his thoughts on choices in education. “Federalism is still the solution to the problem,” Bishop said. “Federalism… is there for civil liberty.” He argues that if people are allowed to have choices, they will have more opportunities.

Bishop explained that the federal government is far too big to attempt to meet the needs of every single student in the country. He says the government fails to see that choices are good because not every state, teacher, and student is the same. He says that the Obama Administration is still asking why people need choices.

While Bishop said that education is not a core constitutional responsibility, he did indicate that there is value in setting a precedent to help ensure success for students. “It’s wonderful to say we have high standards, but to force a specific core kind is wrong… The only core constitutional responsibility that hasn’t been tried is freedom,” Bishop said.

Luna said. “The federal government limits states to do what they want.” This is evident, Luna says, in looking at programs like No Child Left Behind. It’s what he likes to compare to “The good, the bad, and the ugly.” Luna says a standards-based education system is good. “There needs to be accountability for every child.” Things turn bad when the government immediately dished out money, but sought accountability later. They got ugly, he says, when the government implored an “urban model… that doesn’t work in places like Idaho,” according to Luna.

Both Luna and Bishop explained that schools need to work for kids. “Giving people responsibility and holding them accountable will produce results,” said Bishop.

Just this year, Idaho took matters into its own hands. The costs required by the federal government to maintain the status quo, says Luna “are not sustainable in this economy.” He says that students come first, “You could sit back or you could come up with something new.”

By enacting the Students Come First initiative, Idaho has drastically changed the way education works for students, parents, and teachers. “We were willing to spend what we had,” said Luna, and “we did this without spending more money.” He explained that they were able to build this program into formula funding in the state.

There are many benefits to this, as Luna explained. Students will have more effective teachers and access to greater technology. One of the interesting factors of this program is the accessibility of education as it relates to parent and student choice. According to Luna, if parents would like to make a different choice for where their student is taught a specific course, due to technology and the options set forth, they are able to sign their student up for courses taught anywhere in the state. Luna says there is a need for access to high-quality courses no matter where the student lives in the state.

But what does all of this mean for the teachers? Luna says teachers will have more control over how they are paid every year. He said they had to change the way teachers are compensated. Students Come First changed the labor laws to eliminate tenure and seniority. It also limited collective bargaining. He says that now, “you can’t believe how civil they were.”

The minimum salary for teachers will increase to $30,000 as a result. “The average teacher salary is going to go up $2,000,” said Luna. He also promised “pay on performance.” Teachers can also earn annual bonuses for taking on leadership duties, teaching in hard-to-fill positions, or for working in a school that demonstrates academic growth or overall achievement schoolwide.

Luna acknowledged that these types of programs are most likely to succeed when schools and teachers are giving the flexibility they need. “With the kind of flexibility Rep. Bishop talked about, it’s possible,” he said.

Jocelyn Grecko is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia. Jocelyn has spent the past four years in the nation’s capital as a Media Studies undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America. She will graduate in May 2012.

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