Now, Idaho has a chance to craft education reform worthy of our kids

A draft of our Sunday editorial.

Call it Students Come First, the “Luna Laws” or Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Regardless of title, Tom Luna’s K-12 overhaul gave education reform a bad name.

Unveiled suddenly and unilaterally, Luna’s one-shot restructuring plan drew visceral opposition from many of the very people who were tasked with making it work: Idaho’s teachers. This was a big reason why the Luna plan was unpopular from its introduction in January 2011 — and a big reason why Idaho voters rejected these three laws so resoundingly on Tuesday.

But what is “reform,” really, other than a response to ever-changing realities?

All institutions must evolve. They must react to current conditions and anticipate future needs. Public education cannot be exempt from that list. Public education must be eager to improve, not resistant to change.

On that basic point, Idahoans should be able to agree. Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, a school administrator, a business owner or a legislator, let’s at least agree that education reform is not something to fear or vilify.
Idahoans made themselves clear Tuesday. They liked neither Luna’s top-down approach to policymaking nor the actual content of the laws. Both concerns are valid.

But there are elements of these laws worth saving — either as standalone changes, or as part of another reform effort. For example, we endorsed getting rid of the rules requiring cash-strapped school districts to let go of the most recently hired teacher, regardless of job performance. We endorsed attempts to accelerate “concurrent enrollment,” enabling high school students to earn college credit. And two weeks ago, we endorsed one of the three laws, Proposition 2, the teacher merit pay plan.

Revisiting any of these ideas is, obviously, a delicate proposition. No politician should ever be so arrogant or so tone-deaf as to ignore the will of the electorate.

But shirking away from change — in any form and to any extent — is a disservice as well. A disservice, first and foremost, to today’s students, and tomorrow’s.

The trick is to consider education reform while respecting the vote of Idahoans. Fortunately, there isn’t any magic to this. It requires doing what Luna failed to do: involving Idahoans at the start, in the crafting of polcy.

That includes the people most conspicuously cut out of the process 22 months ago: school teachers, administrators and parents. But the discussion also must include the business and technology communities, groups that supported Luna’s proposals. Business leaders are the back-end education stakeholders: the people who hire Idaho graduates. Since the goal of education reform is to better prepare Idaho students for the work force, then business leaders need a say at the outset.

Collaboration isn’t about providing elected officials political cover, although it might happen to do that. True and honest collaboration is essential to producing a plan that is effective and economical.

Reform worthy of the name, and worthy of Idaho’s children.

Luna Illuminata

If there is anyone more qualified to truly reform our State's education system than Tom Luna, I don't know who that would be. With his lifelong experience in education (starting as a small town teacher beloved by his inspired students, working his way into administration, all the while continuing his own education at a prestigious university) he is uniquely positioned to do the job and do it right.

The teachers adore and trust him, and the citizens back him 100%. This is his moment. He was made for this. Stand back Idaho and watch this human dynamo in action!

You forgot


I hope!

didn't think it was needed


I'm certainly glad

you answered back. I was a little scared for a minute! :)

Education Reform

I think everyone is in agreement that Public Education could use a fresh restart. The problem with the Luna laws is that they were put together with an agenda, not with solutions. All major players should have had a seat at the table and they should have had a say. Dissing the teachers during this time wasn't very good P.R. either. Our teachers could come up with some innovative ideas. Just ask them.

Given the opportunity, I

Given the opportunity, I would gladly participate in the process of generating ideas and looking at ways to implement those ideas to help students to be more successful now and in their post secondary careers and/or education.

Here's my concern: Tom will assemble the stakeholders and charge them with the challenge of developing a plan that includes many of his own ideas. He will then tell them to report to him when they feel they have a plan. He will then return to the attention that his Blackberry commands.

After the ideas have been presented to him, he will have a press conference in which he lauds their efforts and congratulates them on job well done. He will then show up at the legislature and propose ideas that are a skeleton of the proposed ideas and convince the Rs that his plan includes ideas from all stakeholders, and he will get it passed...again.

Then he, Butch and Lori will all toast each other and sing their own praises.

You see, there is no more trust in this Superintendent. Real reform can and should happen, but we need someone we can believe has the same goals. Tom Luna has already shown his hand--he simply serves another master.

Will he?

My experience tells me that when one fails at such a gambit without properly developing their pieces the only reasonable course is to resign in order to avoid the embarrassment of forcing the inevitable losing outcome as that is the only action left under the individual's control.

People have to keep the faith

This won't work unless it is under absolute transparency. This needs to be in the light of media.I believe that Luna will have a legitimate person run against him and he will be gone. Voters will not forget the angst he caused so many people.Even Gov. Otter lost his credibility again, with this debacle.

that's essentially what happened

with the Technology Task Force

"Idahoans made themselves

"Idahoans made themselves clear Tuesday. They liked neither Luna’s top-down approach to policymaking nor the actual content of the laws. Both concerns are valid."

Really? I believe it is accurate to say the voters didn't like the laws, period, but imputing motives for almost 650,000 voters seems a stretch to me. What if what most of these voters were saying is that they like their schools the way they are and don't want them reformed in any significant way? I perceive you already sense this might be the case when you say, "But shirking away from change — in any form and to any extent — is a disservice as well."

If, as you claim, voters didn't like Luna's top-down aprroach, what makes you think they will like a top-down approach by committee? There is a solution, however. Whatever reforms the stakeholder committee comes up with should be put on the ballot so all Idaho voters can pass judgment on them just as was done with the Luna laws.

There is one other thing Idaho voters were very clear about Tuesday. With the exception of District 18, they re-elected incumbent legislators by impressive margins, most of whom were Republicans who had voted for some or all of the Student Come First laws. As long as we are imputing motives for voting behavior, may I suggest the majority of Idahoans do not trust Democrats to make decisions related to education or anything else.

Actually, most Idahoans just

Actually, most Idahoans just vote for the "R." When I was canvassing for the no vote I was amazed by how many voters did not even realize their Republican legislators had voted for the Luna laws in the first place. It was as if they thought Luna had just devised these laws without any legislative input.

Pendleton, I had an

Pendleton, I had an interesting experience when I was going door-to-door for GOP candidates on election eve. I had been doing this for a couple of weeks but still had some literature left over and decided to hit an apartment building in my precinct I had previously skipped over on the assumption its occupants were likely nonvoters. I was right about that except for three residents.

At one apartment an elderly woman (late 70s or older)answered the door. She was in a wheelchair and looked as if her hair had not been washed or combed for weeks. Nevertheless, she was eager to receive information about the candidates I was supporting because as she adamantly explained, she was going to vote against "those school laws" and wanted to make sure she did not vote for any candidates who supported them.

I never argue with voters whose minds are made up. Instead I applaud them for planning to vote and move on, but this lady was not done telling me why she was against the SCF laws. She thought it was terrible that her 9-year old granddaughter would be given a laptop and exposed to all kinds of stuff on the internet, to say nothing of the fact the child was too young to be entrusted with caring for a laptop. I wasn't about to let this false information go unchallenged and politely explained the laptops were for high school students only. She said, "Oh, well that's different, my son must not be aware of this." Again, being a mother, I wasn't about to come between this woman and her son, so I again attempted to move on, but she still wasn't done talking. It turns out she had just moved to Boise from Las Vegas within the past few days and was disappointed she would not be able to vote by mail as she was used to doing in Nevada. She was aware, however, that she could register on election day and knew where our polling place was located. Even though it was obvious this woman was going to vote against my candidates, I offered to give her a ride to the polling place, but she said her son would assist her with getting there. I can only hope her son or his wife also assisted her with bathing (one of her legs was amputated above the knee) and shampooing her hair.

I guess you could use this woman as an example of someone who is not like "most Idahoans." I may check on her periodically to make sure she is not being physically neglected, and perhaps in the process this old Republican lady in tennis shoes can straighten out another old lady's political thinking. :)

What a dumb


and phony too....

just ugly's opinion....go sheep, go !!!!

Ugly comment

I could give you the woman's address, and you can go knock on her door, but seeing how I don't know anything about you, that could be risky for an elderly, handicapped woman living alone.

Bytheway....not Ugly comment at all....

On phony, I was not referring to you or your story but sort of the conclusion between you and Pendleton....You stated inpart:

....could use thios woman as an example of someone who is not like 'most Idahoans'.... and further stated, the process this old Republican lady in tennis shoes can straighten out another old lady's political thinking.....

I am a Republican and I vote mostly Rs but not all Rs by any means. My wife and I also voted no on the was not because they were not good or maybe not needed, but because they left way too many questions that could not be answered.They seemed too complicated, thus we voted no.

That was all....sounds like a nice lady and keep on checking on her....

Sorry, Ugly

I did interpret your comment as meaning you thought I invented the story, which I did not. You meet all kinds of interesting people canvassing door-to-door, and I loved the way this lady spoke up and took charge of the conversation. She looked so frail and neglected and yet her mind was as sharp as a tack. She was the exact opposite of the kind of voters Pendleton said he encountered. I considered that she might vote for some Rs on the ticket, but we didn't discuss any other races for me to pick up any clues. Sorry if my tongue-in-cheek humor wasn't apparent. I was going to ask Pendleton if the No campaign imported any other voters from out of state, but he might not think that was funny either.

I cast my first vote for Barry Goldwater and have been voting Republican 99.9% ever since. Only exception I can remember was in 1976. I not only voted but worked for the Frank Church for President campaign, but that was in Dayton, Ohio in the primary. That meant I had to register as a Democrat and would be blackballed from the GOP in Idaho if word got back here, which it did. I got to spend a little time with Frank and Bethine when they came through Dayton. Spent more time that day with David Broder from the Washington Post who knew many Republicans in Idaho which took me by surprise. I honestly did think Church was the most intelligent of all the candidates that year, but Democrats preferred Carter. I haven't voted for a Democrat since. Not saying I won't some day. I check them all out before I vote, but just haven't come across any that appeal to me.

I followed the SCF legislation closely from the time it was introduced, did some research on what other states have done with laptops and liked what I learned. I have five grandchildren in the Boise and Meridian schools so I naturally talked to the oldest ones and to their parents and to a few teachers/friends to learn what they thought. I also attended some townhalls. Was disgusted by the rude, in-your-face behavior exhibited by the opposition at those meetings. Not the kind of people I want teaching my grandchildren frankly and no teachers I know personally behave that way. I was disappointed that the Yes campaign didn't spend the entire past year educating voters, because the legislation can't tell you everything about laws that would have to be implemented incrementally over time (much like Obamacare. I was in no way involved in the campaign, but I will keep posting my opinions about reform as the conversation moves in a new direction.

The "Baby Steps to Ethics Boys" in the Idaho Legislature........

This Republican lost faith in our “Baby Steps to Ethics Boys” in the Idaho Legislature. Denney, Moyle, Hill, Semanko, and their ilk including Labrador.

Had Idaho legislators passed ethics legislation. Had Denney never uttered the words “baby steps.” Had Nonini not deep sixed the Cronin Legislation that would have created transparency and protect Idaho Citizens from bad actors in the troubled For-profit education industry, Idaho Citizens, even many of my fellow Republicans could logically trust Idaho legislators more than we now do.

Teachers, Parents, Students, even the teachers Union earned our trust.
Idaho Legislators, Lobbyists, and out-of-state For-profit education companies did not. .

Abramoff: "Fire up the jet baby, we're going to El Paso!!" Mike Scanlon: "I want all their MONEY!!!" Email interchange between Jack Abramoff

SunDevil,for the second or

SunDevil,for the second or third time now, Moyle and Hill ran unopposed, which suggests to me your fellow Republicans and a lot of Democrats trust them quite a lot. Denny did have opposition, but he was favored by 70% of the voters in his district. Semanko is not a state legislator.

In the minds of most Republicans, profit is not a dirty word or unethical. Maybe it is time to realize you are not a Republican.

"For-profit companies gave a lot to Tom Luna, but they were outspent among legislators by the IEA" - Idaho Statesman, 3-1-2011

$40,000 - IEA
$29,760 - for-profit companies

Normally the IEA would have given a lot more to legislative races, but in 2010 that money was diverted to the Stan Olson campaign in which they invested $182,000.

And what

is Kevin trying to craft?

Education Reform

Now, Idaho has a chance to craft education reform worthy of our kids...and worthy of our teachers.

Time to let the dust settle and to back off

The voters have indeed spoken! However we need to allow time to read and comprehend the message. Allow time and opportunities for discussion at the district level. There is no need for the state to rush into another series of regulations on education. Besides, Governor Otter should be focusing on healthcare reform. The feds are looking at this one. Let the local districts take care of education for the time being.

I have been a parent for 21

I have been a parent for 21 years, a volunteer in my community for the same number of years and have been a formal, elementary education teacher for 3. What I have learned in the last 3 years as a teacher and a parent is that being a teacher is no less than being a rocket scientist.
Each day, multiple times throughout the day, I ask questions pertaining to how to teach a skill, strategy, concept, or content. I look to student data, research based practices and information to drive my instruction. I make predictions as to the outcomes of my plans, adjust accordingly, and move forward with the experiment (instruction).
I then analyze the outcomes. The only predictable outcome is that the carefully research, well-paced, intentional plans will reach some, but not all of my students. Why? Because- as in science my variables are not always predictable. My students come from diverse backgrounds, some of their parents are committed to their education, some are not. Some students are intrinsically driven, others want to know at every step and turn what their reward and incentive will be. Some get sick and miss a lot more school. Some do not and are there each and every day. (Just this week attendance in my 1st grade class of 29 students was 72% due to an upper respitory, viral infection that is floating around.) Other variables that are hardly ever recognized are time constraints.
Students are at school 6 ½ hours each day. Of those 6 ½ hours I see my students for no more than 4 ½ hours. Why? Because it still takes students time to eat, play, experience the arts, get their picture taken, get their ears checked, use the bathroom, etc… Likewise, the 8 hours I am contracted to work do not even begin to cover the time that it takes to be effective, involved, and good at what I do. When 6 ½ of those hours are spent with students (even if it is watching them eat/throw their food), the remaining are spent in meetings about how to handle out of control students, about how to reach the unreachable, how to stay up to date on the latest research-based teaching and learning strategies, and how to please parents, the community, and anyone else who wants a say in my job.
It is only after those 8 hours that I can begin to process the events of the day, look to what should happen the next day, pinpoint who needs what, and then once again start the scientific process all over again.
Positive “reform” and perfect education can only come when each and every variable (student, parent, teacher, administrator, and time) are predictable and controlled. No amount of merit pay, no amount of technology, and no amount of collective bargaining can do that.

Well said...

And as a middle school teacher I agree. One type of reform would help right now...29 1st grade students in one class is a travesty. Lower class size and what you described (complete reality) would not all go away, but would at least become easier if not manageable...even more important, it would benefit the students to a great degree.

How will you achieve this without...

One Family, One Child like China? This isn't a problem with the administration, it's a Whoopie thing.


If you still print the same stuff everybody else gets from AP, Reuters and Yahoo! without subtantive local content beyond this, you are doomed to fail wanting money from me.


Everyone complains that throwing money at education won't help at all. I'm fully aware it's a dream at best to lower class size because of the economy, our local government's failure to understand, and people not wanting to be taxed anymore...but if you want better results, lower class size. It gives the teacher the ability to individualize education for his/her students and help to better strengthen their learning weaknesses. Despite what Mr. Luna and Mrs. Otter say...class size does matter and large class size waters down student learning.

True story

I'm a high school teacher. In any given day, I have to write three assignments for one of my three English courses that I teach because I have kids with various cognitive handicaps, I have a few kids who have limited English proficiency, I have average students, and I have kids who need a little more challenge than the average high school student. Yes, I do write different assignments to accommodate the different learners. It's my job, and in order to do it well, each kid needs what they need.

Did I mention that this particular class has 17 kids enrolled in it? I honestly don't know how I could do it if my class sizes were larger than that. Most schools' class sizes are NOTHING near 17; most are at least 2x that. If I had one class with 32-38 kids in it, it would be near impossible to make sure I give each kid what they need in each class period. Our class periods are 50-something minutes long, so with instruction time, I would not have even a minute to help each of them out, even with a special education paraprofessional in the room.

Class size DOES matter. Anyone who tells you otherwise needs to take a step into a classroom, research the subject, and figure out why it does.

A true leader would resign

A true leader would resign if his signature legislation failed...but too much to expect from the Luna the Tuna!

Nothing will happen...


Idahoans are exhausted with all of this and want a break. It will happen again, unfortunately.

KR, you're dreaming if you think there will be consensus . . .

on these issues. The teacher's union is going to agree to give up $18,000 their members (and all teachers) get at retirement? The union will agree to have open contract negotiations limited to just salary and benefits? The union will agree to allow parents to rank their members in determining their bonuses? The union won. Taxpayers voted to cut more than $60 million from public education. I don't see the union doing anything other than gloating behind close doors that they duped the public into voting for the status quo.

Sorry, Hoss. Not this time.

Sorry, Hoss. Not this time. You and Frank VanderSloot got your one shot at trying to turn school teachers into union thugs. Never again.

And I suggest that you do your homework about the Republican-sponsored early-retirement plan for SOME Idaho teachers before attempting again to paint it as a benefit for members of the teachers union and something enjoyed by all Idaho teachers. We're not putting up with that kind of lying a second time around, so don't even start.

First Things First

Mr. Richert asks, "But what is “reform,” really, other than a response to ever-changing realities?"

Not so fast, Mr. Richert. Before we all sit down at the bargaining table with Mr. Luna, Governor Otter, Nonini, Goedde, and the other usual suspects in a warm welcoming halo of good intentions and bipartisan cooperation, some of us are going to take your rhetorical question quite seriously and answer it. You may not like the answer. Luna and the other "rephormers" certainly will not.

School reform is a carefully orchestrated, well-financed cover for the dismantling of public education. Specifically, it is a scheme by which public education is privatized and turned over to corporations, either in whole (as with vouchers and scholarships for charter and private schools) or in part (as with increased reliance and emphasis on standardized testing, which makes millions for testing companies alone). There are billions of tax dollars to be diverted from the public sector to the private sector in everything from teacher salaries to the financing of bond issues for construction of charter schools at three times the interest rate generally charged for such financing. THAT is why NYC Mayor Bloomberg, Joe Scott of the Albertsons Foundation, and their billionaire pals hid behind the Education Voters of Idaho political action committee in order to dump more than a half-million dollars into Students Come First.

What is "reform," indeed. Please tell that story first, Mr. Richert, before calling for cooperation and collaboration on some mutation or derivation of the Luna laws. If you don't, you're not telling even half of the real story, and you're about to be scooped.

Great post, Mr. Gatz

Corporate investments aside...

If we really need real reform, why don't we start looking at other more successful countries than our own? Why don't we start looking at the countries who are on top and figure out what they do differently, and how is it affecting their school systems?

I do know that European countries give teachers more time during the school day to prepare and grade, they give students less in-class time, and yes, many are 100% paperless. The problem with this is that all of this costs more money, which isn't our solution. What is it that they've done in the high performing European countries that we can carry over into America's school system? Why is it working for them? Will it work for us?

I have some well-read friends on the subject, and I'd love to have them sent out to do research on this. I'm interested in how things are run in those countries and whether it would have an affect on Idaho's kids if we were to change some of our instructional strategies to match theirs.

More importantly...what are the goals of the reform?

A nebulous 'make students better' won't lead to anything meaningful. Wanting to 'improve test scores' is what we've been working under since NCLB and if that isn't working, why double down?

Hopefully any meaningful discussion will start with a look at issue identification, then at ways to approach that issue to improve the current situation.

Unfortunately, with Luna and Otter, they tend to view all issues through an ideological lense, which means they look for ideological solutions to problems that may not even exist in the first place.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

Been there and done that

"With visions of imitating Finland’s success back home, educators from 50 countries around the globe have visited the Nordic country over the past few years, including numerous groups from the United States."

The source for that quote is Scholastics Administrators. There was no date on the article, but it appears to be fairly recent, maybe last year.

U.S. educators who have visited Finland invariably come to the conclusion that very little of what Finland does can be transported to the United States. In the first place they have a population of 5 million vs. 300 million in the U.S. For the most part those 5 million people share a common race, language, and religion. They pay very high taxes in order to provide a large number of free services to every citizen (i.e. health care, day care, college). There is virtually no poverty.

In 1970 Finland began rebuilding its entire educational system. The citizens said they wanted their children taught by the very best teachers. They require teachers to be in the top 10% of their graduation class, and as a reward for their academic scholarship, the teachers have the authority to design and pretty much run the schools. Teacher salaries in Finland are comparable to those in the United States, but with all the free services, I presume their pay checks are more elastic, maybe. I did find one article in a Finnish newspaper in which some teachers were complaining about having to work two jobs to pay the rent.

School attendance is only mandatory for children ages 7-14. While college is free, including room & board, it isn't easy to get into college, because here again you see the emphasis on needing to be at the top of your game, first to get into a college prep high school and secondly to get into college. Nevertheless, a large percentage of students do earn a high school diploma from one of several types of schools. I believe nearly all the European school systems have some type of tracking system for separating students according to their academic abilities starting sometime between 6th and 9th grade. I think that would be a tough sell in the United States where we believe in treating all children as equals even though this often results in reaching the lowest common denominator. We did use tracking systems years ago, but we did it very poorly.