Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Idaho Education Was Actually Pretty Awesome

Lots of things to talk about, but one of 'em I can't get out of my mind.

I spent some time talking with my mother this week. My mother, dear reader, is a second grade teacher. My mom has been teaching in the same school district in Idaho for 33 years. Next year is her last year --she's retiring in May of 2012.

Some of you may know about what's been going down in Idaho's school system this year, but I'm pretty sure most of you do not know about it. I can't claim to be an expert of the so-called Luna Laws, but I do know that for most teachers (all teachers?) there is nothing but outrage, disgust, hurt, disappointment, and now dreaded fear.

Let me paint you a picture, dear reader. Imagine, if you will, a few decades ago. What was life like for an Elementary School Teacher in Idaho? Imagine a job where you got about 10 minutes for lunch, had no prep time in school, and were required to do bus and recess duty everyday. There were no music or P.E. teachers. There were no computer teachers or reading aids. If you had a tough student, you had a tough student. If you had a student with learning challenges, than you were challenged together. There was no extra help. Aside from the janitor and the lunch servers, you were pretty much it.

Time went on, and after your teacher's union (in Idaho) fought with tooth and nail, you finally, finally, finally got a 30 minute lunch! Huzzah! More great things started happening: Children who needed extra help got extra help! You, as a teacher, were able to focus more time on academics and lesson plans because there were suddenly music teachers and P.E. teachers; aids and on-duty help with recess, lunch, and the buses.

Well, guess what is happening in Idaho? The state superintendent (Mr. Luna) has a vision for the students, and with the help of the legislators and their emergency laws ("emergency" so teachers and parents wouldn't have time to oppose it), he is about to see it become a reality. Tenure is gone. Any teacher or aid can be fired or laid off at any time for any reason, even within weeks of school starting. The nearly 800 teachers retiring this year? Won't replace them. One teacher is going to be replaced with an online course.

Guess what else? They want to cap out all salaries at 30K. That means anyone who has been working longer than 10-15 years will lose THOUSANDS of dollars yearly. Automatically. Oh, they do have the option of Merit Pay --up to 8K. Ooh! Merit Pay! Because we all know that works (sarcasm, here): All it takes is one struggling ESL or learning challenged child and your merit pay is out the window.

So, the idea is that these teachers, who are finally in a place where they can actually pull through the STUPID, STUPID, STUPID No Child Left Behind Laws because of the extra help --are going backwards. Next on the agenda is to get rid of music, P.E., extra aids. They will be going back to doing it all on their own. And for less money! Whoo-hoo! The children will have no arts programs, over-worked teachers, crowded classrooms, and --if Luna gets his way --they will learn everything ONLINE. Yep! Luna wants every 14 year old to be given a laptop. He wants them to take online courses. Not to mention spending MILLIONS on electronics that could be used to pay amazing teachers. Honest! They are taking the money and putting into electronic teachers.

The crazy part is that NOBODY wanted these laws to pass. Teachers are getting ready to sue. Local superintendents' hands are tied. The public is in outrage because of the betrayal of their representatives --there have been rallies after rallies, petitions after petitions and still, their representatives voted against what their constituents wanted.

It's so sad, dear reader. For my mother, who is retiring, it won't affect her much (except that she's up to lose thousands of dollars that she was expecting to get this next year if her salary is slashed --that money was not only expected, but needed so she could retire on time!), but she is so upset for everyone she is leaving behind. Her heart is broken because she truly cares for these teachers --but more than that? She knows what will happen to all the kids. She's afraid for their education; their possible failure.

You CANNOT educated based on subjects. In order to educate a child, one must educate the entire person. This isn't about money or lack of money or academics versus the arts or lunch hours or bus duty --this is about educating our children. The future population of this country.

That brings me to other similar points I feel passionately about:
1. Sports and Arts should be the norm and not the exception. Sometimes, those are the only things keeping kids in calculus classes.
2. Teachers should not be afraid of teaching! Holding fear of firing and retribution over them like a gauntlet is NOT going to make them teach better.
3. Parents should be working WITH teachers and not against them.
4. It sucks that a minority of crappy teachers have created this mass psychotic legislature to "protect" us all from that minority. Punishing the majority to protect us from the minority? I swear it's the theme of our government.
5. What can we do? We all whine and complain that the education in our country sucks and is dying and needs work and should improve and why can't they fix it already!? But you know what? This is PUBLIC education. It needs the public to support it!

I've thought about the fifth a lot lately, but I'm not quite sure how to go about doing it. I'm sure many of you have thought about this more than I have, because quite frankly, I've been blessed with a great school for my kids. One of the reasons why? Parental involvement. The parental involvement at my kids' school is outstanding! The teachers are championed and supported in every way. It makes it an all-around great experience for our community because of it.

Anyway. If you live in Idaho, I encourage you protest the Luna Laws in every way you can! If not, start thinking about how you might be able to help your local schools. You might be able to make a really big difference --but how can you know until you try? It's worth the shot. And, as we've all heard from The Simpsons:

Won't somebody pleeeeease, think of the children!?


Julie P said...

I saw "Luna Laws" and it seems like it should read: LUNATIC LAWS. I'm just speechless. And so very sad.

Cheryl said...

Our school system is going WAY downhill too here in NV. OUr governor is cuttint $400 MILLION from education! All teachers are getting basically a 20% pay cut and they are increasing class size by 2-3 students and taking away all art education. I have written every legislator and rallied the "mormon mommy mafia" to do the same. Not sure that it's making a difference but I have to feel like I'm doing something. UGH!

flip flop mama said...

Wow, I am just appalled! I hope that the citizens of Idaho can band together and show the legislature that THEY are in charge. The future of our children's educations depend on it!

michelle said...

This sounds simply awful. I don't get it...what they hope to get out of this, why the representatives didn't represent their constituents?

Kim said...

I can't even really think about this subject, I get sooooo sick to my stomach when I do! I am so scared for my kids! I am sad your Mom is retiring! Super happy for her, but I am afraid we will be loosing MANY of our outstanding teachers all thanks to Mr Luna!

The United Statements of Merica said...

That's AWEFUL! I'm glad your mom is only going to have to endure one year of it. After seeing some documentaries: waiting for superman and Race to Nowhere, I've pretty much given up hope. I'm already starting to see the affects of a broken system in our own home. and frankly after a couple of years trying to figure out what to do for my kids i have determined that there's no way I can make a big enough difference to justify the ammount of time, energy and $$ that i would need to contribute.. I already do, and I'm just not satisfied with the results so I'm reclaiming my children because I know i can do a more effective job of educating them and I'm homeschooling next year.. not that we haven't had wonderful teachers. there's just too much wasted time and not enough support.. even in Orinda Ca. Where we have had to pay personally over $2500 so far this year to the school. the school system is just outdated. The world has changed so much and the jobs and training needed are so different, I sense major reform and perhaps even a revolution, but In the meantime, my kids are growing and need to be properly educated, and like you said, the whole child needs to be educated. not just STAR test prep. and that's where i come it

Life is a Zoo in the Jungle said...

This is crazy. I'm am bothered by the way money is spent and allocated in the school systems. It is going to be a sad day when we wake up in 10 years from down and realized that our educated workforce had decreased because of the stupid laws being passed by legislators. It seems to me that schools should be run by schools and not by those in government office. Determine how much money you are going to give a school and leave it up to the school to decide where it goes. I hurt for those in Idaho, California and other states that are facing the same issues. The year I was laid off in CA the school I worked for bought $70,000 in Audio equipment. Why you ask? Because they had the money and it could only be used for tech equipment.

Just to play devils advocate though I did want to voice my opposition to one point. I am for getting rid of tenure for teachers. As a teacher I worked with many teachers who continued to teach because they didn't have anything better to do and had lost the joy, and frankly the willingness to educate. I do not want those teachers teaching my kids and they should not be in the classroom. And I am not opposed to merit pay if it is structured by teachers NOT the government. It can be done, it won't always be fair but it can be done.

I love reading your posts, thanks for the thought provoking addition to my day.