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Victoria Young: This Idaho Parent Prefers Teachers to Laptops

One of my fellow organizers for the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC, is an Idaho parent and veterinarian, Victoria Young. She writes today about the latest news from her state.

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Across the country, acts of insanity are occurring in the name of "education reform." What is unique to Idaho, where I live, is Mr. Luna, our recently re-elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is a business man who qualified for this position through an on-line degree program. His other qualifications include serving on a local school board, seat time on the state Accountability Commission, a position in the Bush administration for No Child Left Behind, and he is of the right political party figuratively and literally.

Mr. Luna has developed Idaho's plan to "educate more students at a higher level with limited resources," words that were repeated over and over as the selling point for this new education reform plan. Those words and the title "Students Come First" hit home with many corporate interests, foundations, lawmakers and some residents. The plan (not yet approved by legislators) was presented as an innovative idea with a dual purpose, saves money and improves education. Details?

Students Come First. According to the leadership here, the state must "admit that the current system is no longer adequate and have the courage to change it." So the plan is now written in two separate bills that as of yesterday (2/3/11) were approved by our state education committee to print. Reform will come with a price.

The "Public School Modernization and Reform" Bill funds the purchase of laptops for every 9th grader and mandates six on-line credits to graduate. The minimum instructional salary is increased by $345 while funding formulas are changed to foster class size increases. Pay-for-Performance is set to include Student Achievement-Based Awards, Hard-to-Fill Bonuses and Leadership Awards. After 2015, anytime the budget sees a shortfall, Pay-for-Performance will be funded ahead of salary allowances.

In part two, the "Labor Relations and Employee Entitlements" Bill, you find the full blown attack on "tenured teachers." It includes limitations on negotiations, contracts limited to one year, and the elimination of the requirement to bargain "in good faith." And of course, consideration of seniority would become a thing of the past.

In essence, here in Idaho, we will use technology not as a tool to improve education but as a replacement for 770 teachers in order to make the dollars come out right. So, if you like to gamble, don't need job security, love to play the numbers games, and are willing to teach to the test when necessary, this state is for you.

There was some expression of concern that the computers would create more state bureaucracy but the response was that those issues would be taken care of by contracting out to a "private provider." No worries? I'm not sure any one asked if was alright with the public to use the law to put public education money into private pockets.

In Idaho, Luna-cy has taken on a meaning of its own. The definition I would choose in this case is "insanity amounting to lack of responsibility in the eyes of the law." What is happening here and across the country is criminal ─ intended or not.

Through my work with the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action organization, the magnitude of the situation was unveiled. I noticed within the communications from another volunteer a link to Indiana's plan titled "Putting Student's First." She also had made a remark that teachers have been accused of not having the courage to change. Google Michelle Rhee and the word "courage"...think about this... "Students Come First," "Putting Student's First," and Ms. Rhee's organization "Students First"... coincidence; or "second verse same as the first." Nice words, ugly details...anyone in addition to me having a Déjà vu moment?

We have been this way before. They wrote the words, played the tune, beat the drums, pulled the strings and we danced the jig... No Child Left Behind; great title, costly mistake. As a writer, I found myself pausing for a moment in awe of the architect (or architects) of this "business-model education reform movement" verbiage. It's brilliant and has effectively led the people through phase one ─ acceptance of standardized tests as a standard measure of the system, student, and teacher ─ and into phase two ─ securing reliance on standardization and privatization.

That moment of admiration pasted quickly leaving me feeling physically ill.

This morning in the paper, the battle lines were clearly drawn. In support of the Luna plan were Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce in addition to two wealthy foundations with long histories in failed education reforms. On the other side, a teachers union and unorganized people who sincerely want to see us put students first.

I had to ask myself; if this is about putting students first, how will it work when we are in a budget crunch as we are now?

Under the "business-model" mentality, once labor protections are removed, cheap labor "works." Any time we have privatized a public service it goes through phases of the privatization process that initially includes regulations to protect the consumer. Then it's on into the de-regulation phase and the building of monopolies. Those phases are then followed by booms and busts with the resultant concentration of wealth, power, and control. Take it further and we end up with tyranny, oppression, and revolution.

Must we drag future generations of children through that same cycle, or can we now have a national discussion like mature, concerned adults and work together towards a better outcome? Do we really want to subject children to free-market "rules" knowing that "free" doesn't mean "fair"?

I don't know if this education agenda is born out of blind ignorance or just part of the expanded playing field of the politically powerful. What I do know is that what is happening is wrong for American children, of that I am certain, and I stand ready to take on that debate sooner rather than later. If the real architect of "reform" won't participate, can't find the courage to do so, any of the well-prepped mouth pieces would do. The country deserves to hear an open debate about education issues so they can decide for themselves what direction puts students first.

One thing I can tell teachers today is that the majority of the people support you and your chosen profession. When you close your classroom door, you don't stand alone in front of your students. We support you. As you look out over your students, know this ─ we understand that you are doing everything you are able to and know how to do, to put your students first. Now, we need your support. It's time to choose what piper we wish to pay and to what tune we will dance.

It's time we demand that all plans pass a test, a test designed to meet a new standard for American education. Simple test, one question; is the plan best for our kids, our communities, and our country?

Victoria M. Young is a mother, a veterinarian, an author, an advocate for equal educational opportunity, and an American who has had enough of the insanity surrounding education reform.

What do you think of Victoria Young's viewpoint? What should be our top priority?

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