Monday, February 7, 2011

"The Best Teachers in the Nation" Under Siege by Many Who Claim to Love Us

"We love Idaho teachers! Our children love them! They put in extra hours. They care deeply about the growth and development of our children. They have a strong desire to help kids succeed and take pride in them even after they graduate and move on with their lives...Teachers deserve job security and need to be paid extremely well in order to attract and reward the best of them."  

The preceding comment from Frank L. Vandersloot, founder of Melaleuca Inc., a multi-million dollar company based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, appeareed in a full-page newspaper ad Sunday, February 6, 2011 (Idaho State Journal, A7)

With such praise, why then is Mr. Vandersloot supporting legislation (proposed by State Superintendent Tom Luna) that would return Idaho teachers to the primitive working conditions of the early 1970's? Simply, Mr. Vandersloot's hate of the IEA (Idaho Education Association) far outweighs his love of teachers. He infers as much in his ad. More about that later. 

While campaigning for a second term last fall, Mr. Luna cast himself as the savior of Idaho's school system; he claimed his policies had increased student achievement that Idaho is an innovator in education; now he and his supporters, including Mr. Vandersloot, castigate Idaho schools and teachers: "Governor Otter's and Superintendent Luna's plan, Students Come First, will transform a system that has been broken for decades," claims the Melaluca ad. 

Opposed to the Luna plan, my district's school board and Superintendent Mary Vagner penned a white paper addressing the myriad flaws in the proposed legislation. Among the key points:

  • The state has historically shown an inability to fund what may have been termed at one point either “reforms” or basic services.  The paper lists 13 failed funding measures enacted by the legislature. 
  • The reform based legislation does nothing to address the cost increases that school districts will be forced to absorb just to open their doors next fall with or without various staffing levels. In my building one of the huge expenditures would be wiring the school to support the proposed technology mandates. 
  • The legislation itself is insulting in its title, thinking that any one of the school boards in this state would not put children first.  The full title of the proposed legislation is Students Come First – Labor Relations and Employee Entitlements and Public School Modernization and Reform. Rather than modernization, I characterize the legislation as Draconian.  
  • The legislation ignores best practices based on research and piloting of reforms. Mr. Luna provided no opportunity for input and consideration of the "reforms" he offers. 
  • Merit Pay doesn't work: Studies report the attempts made to implement such practices and the subsequent failures of the practices are due to the lack of sustainable funding and objective measures upon which to make pay for performance decisions. 
  • Further, as a school board there is a legitimate concern about the nature of pay for performance promoting competition rather than collaboration and cooperation among staff with a concern that staff members may be pitted against each other for the dollar.  
  • This legislation appears again to erode the duties of Trustees and puts most decision making in the hands of the legislature and the state superintendent of public education.  
In penning the white paper, our board deemed it necessary to list 18 harmful effects the legislation will have on students, teachers, and patrons should the bill pass. Here are a few: 
  • Damaged relationships with employees, community and parents
  • Deterioration of instructional time for students without teachers
  • Lack of accountability and quality control for student achievement
  • School buildings do not have the capacity to run the technology investment in either a wireless platform or an electrical platform
  • Student behavior management issues will be evident without teacher supervision
  • Technology “haves” and “have nots” will still exist due to a lack of internet access for all students outside of the school day.
In contrast to my district's position, Mr. Vandersloot implores teacher to have faith in the legislature: 

"Contrary to the propaganda, good teachers do not have anything to be frightened of  under a "pay for performance" system...Only those teachers who have good reason to believe they cannot perform would choose to stay away from a 'pay for performance' system...But knowing that we share the objective of creating schools where both students and teachers prosper can assure teachers that lawmakers will crate a system where that can happen." 

Mr. Vandersloot is so out of touch with teachers that he actually believes educators will flock to Idaho to work under a merit pay system that denies teachers due process. Union members and non-union members alike recognize the inherent flaws in such systems. 

By using words like fear, propaganda, and union bosses, Mr. Vandersloot articulates a point of view that casts the IEA as a predator taking advantage of unsuspecting teachers too ignorant and vulnerable to choose for themselves, when, in fact, most IEA positions (if not all) are filled by classroom teachers. 

Through his use of rhetoric, Mr. Vandersloot labels all educators who oppose Luna's proposal as "bad teachers." For his part, Luna so desires a seat at the reform table that he attempts to "reconfigure" the movement in his euphemistically titled legislation. 

Mr. Luna uses his charismatic image to great effect by exploiting the propaganda of failing schools and labels Idaho's education system, which he has led the past four years, broken. Both count on an emotional response from teachers and the legislature rather than rational thinking.

In Virgil's The Aeneid, Dido falls on her sword when Aeneas leaves her to fulfill his destiny of founding Rome. For the sake of putting students first, I hope the Idaho legislature avoids Dido's fate and rejects Luna's legislation. 

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