Teachers are at a breaking point

The big hand of government is heavy.

Right now, Idaho lawmakers are attempting to swipe local control from Idaho’s school districts and charters with House Bill 222, the career ladder and tiered licensure plan.

With only a couple weeks left, lawmakers finally decided to bring out this 33-page behemoth of a bill.  Lawmakers got sidetracked this session with the Idaho Education Network debacle so put off dealing with this controversial legislation until now. Idaho legislators are fond of railing against the federal government, demanding that Idaho has control of its own destiny, from healthcare to wilderness, environmental policy to education. Ironically, state lawmakers then hamstring local municipalities.

Gov. Otter and legislative leaders have touted the need to attract and retain high quality teachers in Idaho, but House Bill 222 doesn’t do that. This plan barely moves the needle in terms of attracting teachers because of all the heavy handed mandates couched in this proposal.

Teachers entering the education field have plummeted the past five years.  Some districts have resorted to head-hunting organizations like Teach For America because they are desperate to hire for hard-to-fill positions.  Provisional certification can be given to someone with a degree who wants to try out teaching, but it’s with little support.

Districts are hiring hundreds of student teachers under emergency licenses because they have no other options.

And the big hand of government is trying to help fix the problem?  I say, get out of the way and let’s have an open and honest conversation about political agendas getting ahead of truly improving Idaho’s public schools.

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HB 222 makes teachers accountable for conditions over which they have little or no control. It is entirely unfair to connect a majority of student test scores to teachers, when there are so many factors that influence a child. Teachers are not afraid of accountability, but tying student test scores to teacher pay is flat out unethical.

There is nothing in the state Constitution about adequate tax breaks for corporations. Just ask IACI President Alex LaBeau, who’s recent email rant against teachers reveals a corporate entitlement attitude all too prevalent here in Idaho.

Disturbingly, the tiered licensure plan being pushed by the Idaho House was sold to the Governor’s taskforce on Improving Education last year with misleading data released from the Idaho State Department of Education.  Department data only included white students. When comparing Idaho to other states with similar demographics, and excluding Idaho’s nearly 20 percent minority student population, it made Idaho’s data look bad.

Co-chairs of the Career Ladder/Tiered Licensure Committee Dr. Linda Clark and Rod Lewis cited this misleading research in a co-authored op-ed written in the Sept. 14 Idaho Statesman:  “There are currently 13 states, most of which rank ahead of Idaho in student achievement.” Not true. Actually, the NAEP data used for this measurement included 17 states, and when all student data is used (including minority populations) Idaho is actually ranked 4 out of 17 when Idaho’s minority students are factored into the equation.

Should the new career ladder plan be implemented this year, it will happen because the Legislature has rammed this bill down the throats of local school districts and schools. Lawmakers’ grips are tight and getting tighter. Rural schools can’t take it any more. It’s nearly impossible to adequately recruit qualified staff.

Teachers who teach underprivileged, special education or English Language Learners are not wanting to teach these students because of what Idaho policymakers are doing to Idaho schools. We are at a breaking point.

Policymakers claim a recommitment to public education?  I don’t think so.

Travis Manning is Executive Director of the Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho. He is a high school English teacher.