Monday, November 19, 2007

Local View on Luna

From the South Idaho Press:

Luna’s Pay Proposal Won’t Improve Instruction

Local View/By Jeff Roper

State Education Superintendent Tom Luna, backed by legislators like Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has recently proposed a radical change in the way Idaho’s public school teachers are paid.

This proposal would provide an alternative to the “Steps and Ladders” approach to teacher pay, an approach that rewards teachers for years of service and for college credits earned, and would instead reward teachers with substantial bonuses based upon five variables:

1) Student achievement and growth as measured by ISAT scores;
2) Teachers filling hard to fill positions;
3)Teachers forgoing tenure and entering contracts much as principals do now;
4) Teachers becoming certified to teach multiple subjects; and
5) Teachers accepting leadership positions while they teach.

Luna’s proposal has received “overwhelming support from parents, teachers, policy makers, and education administrators across Idaho,” according to the State Department of Education’s own newsletter.

Not so fast, Mr. Luna. At Declo High School in Cassia County (as conservative and rural as Idaho gets) where I have taught English for six years, almost no support for this proposal has emerged. Instead teachers are very concerned about any proposal that is so focused on administrative issues ? like teachers filling hard to fill position, teachers forgoing tenure, teachers becoming certified in multiple areas and teachers filling leadership positions ? and is so unfocused on classroom instruction.

I understand student achievement and student growth as measured by the ISAT tests are a part of Luna’s plan. But almost all teachers recognize that the ISAT tests are very crude and often unreliable guides to either growth or achievement. For example, last spring almost 20 percent of the questions on the 10th grade Language ISAT test were about a particular writing format, a format most would argue no one ever needs to memorize.

ISAT tests simply don’t tell enough, and what they tell is not accurate enough to base anything as important as teacher pay upon. And ISATs don’t measure analytical thinking and questioning very well at all, and this is what we teachers know is most important.

Do we have any data that suggests that focus on ISATs improves student performance as our students leave high school? In fact, we have the reverse. We have been giving ISAT tests for six years, and Idaho student participation in college has dropped to one of the lowest levels in the nation.

Could it be that ISATs actually “dumb down” education to a level of memorization and regurgitation, forcing creative college-level thinking to the sidelines? Could it be ISATs make school so deadly boring that students can’t imagine continuing in college?

Certainly Idaho’s public schools are not working as they should if only 26 percent of Idaho’s 18- to 24-year-olds participate in college (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Nov. 2007). This percentage should make all Idahoans shudder.

Perhaps an alternative pay proposal is appropriate in our efforts to improve public school instruction. The alternative proposed by the Idaho Education Association is much more focused on instruction and maintains a much higher degree of local control, but Luna’s proposal will not improve instruction because it is not aimed at instruction.

Basing a new pay proposal upon faulty student tests and four questionably important administrative issues seems unwise indeed. Why would the Idaho Legislature accept a teacher pay plan that will cost additional millions without doing what everyone agrees is our primary goal, improving classroom instruction for what our students need in their adult futures?

Jeff Roper teaches at Declo High School.

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