My education career began in l953 as a math and science teacher in Cascade, and concluded when I retired as Idahos superintendent of public instruction in l995. In between I served as principal, district superintendent, and deputy state superintendent before I was elected four times as Idahos chief state school officer, tying the record for longest tenure in that office.
Thus, when I comment on current school reform issues and on three referenda on Idahos November election ballots, I do so from the perspective of a lifetime of educational experience. I oppose all three of the proposals.
Idaho has made many efforts to reform public schools. I led some of those with the help and support of many great administrators, teachers, parents, school board members, legislators and others. Our successes included increasing high school graduation requirements, adding an economics requirement, initiating math and writing assessments, establishing elementary school standards, requiring 90 percent attendance, and requiring a C average in core subjects. All of these were designed to improve schools and help students reach higher achievement levels.
Now we have three ballot propositions labeled school reform by supporters. These reforms have little to do with what happens where it matters most: in the classroom between the student and teacher. They will have minimum impact on what kids need to know and be able to do as a result of having gone to school.
The three are complex and difficult to analyze. Voters should study them in detail. In an oversimplified and general way, this is what each provides:
Proposition 1: Eliminates continuing contracts for teachers, invalidates existing contracts negotiated between local school boards and teacher associations, limits collective bargaining to salary and benefits, and requires negotiations in public meetings. This diminishes teachers ability to negotiate a wide range of educational issues (class size, preparation time, and so forth) with local school boards and is aimed, I believe, at reducing the Idaho Education Associations influence.
Proposition 2: Introduces a merit pay bonus program based on academic growth targets set by the state and local school district. Without new money to pay bonuses, the base salary for all teachers may be further reduced.
Proposition 3: Provides laptop devices for high school students and requires two online course credits for graduation. Again, without additional funding, this will reduce the number of employed teachers and increase class size, in effect trading teachers for computers.
Each proposition has some favorable features. Yet they add up to more state-level decisions and a dramatic decrease in the school control by locally elected school boards. Taxpayer dollars intended for our already underfunded school districts will automatically flow to unaccountable for-profit online course providers in other states.
Most important, these reforms hold little promise of helping students attain higher academic performance, which ought to be the goal of any school improvement program. They are nothing more than efforts to reduce local control and divert the publics attention away from a severely underfunded public school system with the notion that with less money and more technology we can have better outcomes.
Education should not be political or partisan. Children dont come to school with Rs or Ds on their foreheads. Republican and Democratic parents alike want the same for their children: to be well-educated and well-prepared for whatever lies in the future, and to be at no disadvantage because they went to school here in Idaho.
We can and must do more and better for our students and schools, beginning with voting no on these propositions on Nov. 6.
Jerry L. Evans, a Republican, served as state superintendent of public instruction from 1979 to 1995.