Notes from the ‘listening session’

listening2Odds and ends from Friday’s 2 1/2-hour “listening session,” convened by the House and Senate education committees.

A reunion of sorts: Among Friday’s speakers were two former legislators from Boise.

Former Rep. Steve Smylie, a teacher who narrowly lost to state schools superintendent Tom Luna in the 2006 GOP primary, questioned the message lawmakers have been sending on education issues. The state goes on “witch hunts” against teachers, spends less per pupil than 49 other states, passed Luna’s Students Come First laws over public objection, and is now talking about adding more components to the plate of reform. “We need to agree on the most basic of all tenets. We are here for the children.”

Former Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, a Democrat, joined the chorus of speakers who urged the Legislature to go slowly on school reform — and trust the 31-member public education task force convened by Gov. Butch Otter. “Let’s get this right. There’s no reason to hurry.”

A pitch for Pre-K: It didn’t get much attention, in a listening session dominated by talk about charter schools and collective bargaining law.

But Beth Oppenheimer, speaking on behalf of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, urged the state to invest in the “essential tool” of early education.  She cited research that indicates that 90 percent of brain development occurs by age 5.

The Legislature has resisted pre-K proposals for several years. Opponents say young children are best nurtured, and taught, in the home.

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Drive to succeed? At the outset of Friday’s session, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde urged audience members not to applaud or boo speakers.

But Rod Morse still got the biggest ovation of the morning after his testimony.

Morse has taught in Meridian schools for 31 years, and has spent the past 13 years working on the side teaching drivers’ education. His students, he was quick to say, learn to drive a stick, not a “namby pamby” automatic transmission.

He argued that merit pay for teachers is a “waste of money,” since teachers are already doing their best.

He instead suggested true high-stakes testing: tying drivers’ education not just to school attendance, as the law now dictates, but also to classroom performance.

Points for penmanship: Ronalee Linsenmann, a longtime Republican Party activist from Nampa, scored a few points with one House Education Committee member, Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls. Bateman is pushing to mandate teaching cursive handwriting in school.

Now, she says, too many people scribble an unintelligible graphic and pass it off as a signature. “Your penmanship is your self-identity. It’s brainwriting, not handwriting.”

The last word: From Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, “We heard a lot today. We have a lot to take to heart.”