BOISE, Idaho -- Public schools chief Tom Luna outlined an aggressive plan for education reform, calling for more technology in the classroom and a pay plan for teachers based on merit, not seniority.
Luna detailed his proposal Wednesday for Idaho lawmakers on the House and Senate education committees, saying it may be difficult for "the adults" in public education but will benefit students.
Among the highlights of Luna's plan:
- All ninth-grade students will be given laptops and required to take two online courses.
- Idaho would implement a plan to pay teachers based on their performance, which will include student achievement, and eliminate tenure for new teachers instead offering them two-year rolling contracts.
- Teachers would be able to receive bonuses for taking on hard-to-fill and leadership positions.
- Teachers' collective bargaining agreements with school districts will expire at the end of each fiscal year and will be limited to salaries and benefits.
- Idaho colleges and universities would be allowed to operate charter schools.
The basic tenets of Luna's plan involving more technology in schools is getting bipartisan support, but his proposals involving pay for teacher performance is already angering some in the teaching community.
"The system we have today makes it almost impossible to reward our great teachers, and it makes it difficult to remove poor teachers," said Luna. "We have to remove both of those obstacles if we truly are putting students first and we want to do what's in the best interest of children."
Luna says the measures are needed to ensure the best and brightest are teaching our children.
But opponents say teachers are already worried about their future.
"I just had a conversation with a retired principal just a few days ago and she told me, it is not difficult to get rid of an ineffective teacher, you just have to be an effective principal to do it," said Sherri Wood, President Idaho Education Association. "It feels like anyway that somehow the teacher has become the enemy."
Luna also wants to provide a laptop for every 9th grader that they'll take through high school, and require high schoolers to take at least two online courses per year. But to pay for it, he proposes increasing the student-teacher ratio by nearly two students per classroom over the next five years.
"There's not one credible study that has demonstrated that increasing classroom size has a negative impact on student achievement," said Luna. "The most important factor is the quality of the teacher in the classroom."
"This proposal unfortunately makes our classrooms more crowded," said Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D - Boise. "And while he puts in a whole bunch of innovative technology, I worry about the loss of teachers in districts and that inability for a teacher to get to every student in a classroom."
Department of Education spokesperson Melissa McGrath says the plan would mean 770 jobs would be cut over the next 5 years. However, since the state loses 1,600 teachers a year, through retirement or other reasons, Luna's office believes they can absorb most of those cuts through attrition.
The proposed plan has not been put into bill form. Lawmakers heard the plan for the first time Wednesday. There will probably be numerous pieces of legislation tied to this plan.
And if the reaction from the Idaho Education Association is any indication, there is still plenty of discussion to be had on these issues.
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Tom Luna was voted in even though he has no background in education whatsoever. I can say from experience that forcing students to take online classes is a terrible idea on many levels - I've taken a class with the online education system in Idaho, and it was useless, especially with how it was run. Plus the new infrastructure needed would be incredible, since most schools couldn't handle the sudden need for bandwidth and electricity with that many new laptops. There's a lot of problems with online education (lack of teacher-student interaction, loss of communication, etc). And teaching jobs are hard enough to find as-is, meaning that there will be 700 more college students graduating with an education degree they can't use.
The other issue is the merit-based pay - the only way to judge "merit" would be through testing, which is a bad system for determining student education and isn't fair to teachers.