I believe the 2013 legislative session has been a dysfunctional session as far as education issues are concerned. There is a lack of common direction, agreed upon goals, or methods needed to accomplish these undefined goals. The legislature is drowning in information without direction.
This confusion has lead to conflicting policies. The Legislature is restoring some of the cuts to teacher salaries while at the same time making it easier for the school districts to reduce teacher salaries. Also, there is a desire to give parents choice in education but opposition to funding charter schools.
This confusion is to be expected with the defeat of the propositions in November. What should be the direction of education reform? Many, especially the Idaho Education Association (teachers union), assert that anything the voters rejected in November should not be addressed this session. “The voters have spoken” is the refrain.
I, personally, do not know exactly what the voters really meant except for one thing — the voters did not like the process. The voters felt like the Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Legislature simply imposed a plan on the teachers without the teachers input. They want the stakeholders to work together.
One wonders if there is an ability to bring up substantive issues or will education policy languish without leadership? What are the major issues facing education and what is the path forward? I see several major issues including:
- role of parent
- medical costs
- student flexibility
- parental choice
It has been said that the legislature is unwilling or unable to fund public schools appropriately. However, I do not believe that public school funding can be stabilized by increasing funding alone. The funding needs of public schools are limitless while the funding is limited. Funding can only be stabilized by increasing the role of parents, allowing students to have more flexibility, and innovation. This must include encouraging and rewarding students that are able to finish the k-12 system in less than 13 years.
Role of Parents
The educational formula that best reflects the needs of public education is: Funding x teachers x parental involvement x student desire to learn = educational outcomes
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Past public school reform has focused almost exclusively on funding. Most debate at the Legislature deals with funding issues. This has created the reality that everything is seen through the microscope of funding. This focused interest on funding has largely ignored the value of and resources that parents could bring to the system. I suggest that increasing parental involvement will do more to stabilize school funding than providing more funds alone.
Medical Costs continue to eat into teachers’ salaries and into operational funding of school districts. This is an issue that needs serious consideration.
Allowing student flexibility on how they can access the public education system also offers a promise to stabilize costs. If a student will take classes at a pace that allows the student to finish the course work in less time, there is an efficiency created and individualized outcomes encouraged. Allowing students to access the system in a way that fits their individual needs is an area that needs further exploration.
I hope that the stakeholders and the governor’s task force will bring a coherent vision of public education to the next legislative session; however, I fear that more funding will be at the root of most new reform suggestions for this one reason: The stakeholders are focused on funding more than on the needs and roles of parents and students. Until the needs and roles of parents become the focus of attention, it is unlikely that real reform can take place.