Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Idaho: More Interesting Than You Think

Across much of the US, we don't really think of Idaho as the hotbed of, well, anything. That's our mistake. But in the current battle for American public education, Idaho is the stage for some interesting battles.

The fight to watch right now is the four-way GOP contest for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction; it's a battle that includes at least one anti-CCSS candidate. The other bone of contention is the report from the governor's task force and its recommendations for education in Idaho.

Let's back up a step. That report exists because previous Superintendent Tom Luna pushed a set of laws through in 2011 now known as Propositions 1, 2, and 3. Proposition 1 essentially erased all labor protections for teachers and principals; they could be fired without cause, and contract terms could be imposed by school boards. Proposition 2 was a lumpy, misshapen merit pay plan. Proposition 3 tackled technology and funding.

These laws raised a stink, and the battle over their rejection raised a ton of money, including $$ from the NEA (against) and Michael Bloomberg ($200,000 for). But ultimately the voters rejected the Luna Laws, leaving education "reform" in Idaho all dressed up with no place to go.

So Governor Otter rustled up a Task Force for Improving Education which came up with twenty recommendations that are the very picture of the proverbial committee-designed camel. The range is broad: mastery-based learning, adopt Idaho Core Standards, literacy before "significant content learning," college classes for high school students, statewide big data, tiered pay system for teachers, PLCs, more technology, strategic planning, and more kitchen sinks. Okay, I made up the last one. And despite the central-planning elements like Idaho's rebranded Common Core, a call for more autonomy and less state restricting of local schools.

Idaho Superintendent candidates have plenty to choose from, and choose they do. Randy Jensen (a principal)  wants to raise the money needed to implement tiered licensing and career laddering for teachers, because that's the kind of thing that attracts top teachers.

Andy Grover (a superintendent) wants to see the state fund better teacher training; the recommendations include an endorsement of CCSSO's new teacher training program. "We need to make sure teachers have the tools they need to match the rigorous standards," says Andy.

Sherri Ybarra (federal programs director, which I suppose is an actual thing) is chirpilly supportive of both teachers and the Common Core.

And John Eynon (teacher) thinks the Core and its attendant noise are "just more big government" and that the Task Force ignored the voice of the people.

So there's always the possibility that the pro-CCSS vote splits three ways and a teacher becomes state superintendent with a promise to wipe out the Reformy Status Quo. The defeat of the three Propositions suggests that Idahoians (what do we call folks from Idaho) is not fully on board the CCSS train. Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter has re-election hopes of his won, which he's pinned on his desire to take the work he's started and "see it through."

I don't know the ins and outs of local politics in Idaho, but from out here in the cheap seats it looks like Idaho is one more state that may soon tell us just how toxic the Core have become politically.

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