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 stand-alone 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 policy.
That includes the people most conspicuously cut out of the process 22 months ago: 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 reform is to better prepare Idaho students for the workforce, 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.
“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board.