Idaho is suing the federal government because it finds health care mandates unconstitutional. Strange, then, that the same anti-government state seeks to implement a mandate for online classes in our high schools under its Students Come First education plan.
While testifying before the Idaho Senate Education Committee, a high school student from Caldwell decried the mandate of online classrooms. Chairmen John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked her if she used her computer in researching her report to the committee. She acknowledged she did.
Other papers have reported this similar exchange as a sort of “gotcha” moment. That is, the student admits to using technology while bemoaning the use of online classes. The problem is that they are different things: using technology for research is not the same as taking a class online, but it seems most of those testifying, the Senate committee, and other reporters failed to realize the difference.
Consider Frank VanderSloot, owner of Melaleuca Inc. in Idaho Falls, who said technology is the future, and went on to say that even his warehouse employees used computers and scanners. How scanners equate with an online classroom mystifies me.
Still, several parents and students testified before the Senate committee about the benefits derived from their online classes. More technology in the classroom offers even more tools for teachers and students to use as they develop their critical thinking skills. Who could be against that?
It’s not whether or not the students know how to implement technology. They do-better than most of us. It’s whether forcing students, without a choice, into a certain mode of learning is really putting the students first.
Idaho ought to continue to offer online courses, but mandating them at the cost of teachers is a terrible way to get buy-in from citizens and an insult to our teachers. For a state all about choice, perhaps the students should have a say in how they want to learn.
I suspect the mandate stems from a desire to curb costs instead of really putting students first. If children are allowed to choose, they might not pick an online course. Let’s not balance our books on the backs of our children. And let’s not call cost-cutting measures innovation. What kind of message does that send to our students, our citizens and to the rest of the country?
In regards to increasing classroom size, another controversial cost-saving measure of Superintendent Luna’s plan, it’s quite telling that no one spoke in favor of increasing classroom size. How could anyone? What teacher, what normal person with any common sense would say, “I am a more effective teacher when my class size marginally increases each year?”
I’m reminded of Econ 101 and the law of diminishing returns. At what point does adding one more student reach a point of ineffectiveness? If Luna wants the teachers to do more with less, how about decreasing students in a room?
The closest any person came to defending the larger classrooms was the principal of the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, who asserted that effective teachers could work with a few more students, because their reward is higher pay. This echoes Frank VanderSloot’s universal theory of improvement through “measures, reports, and rewards, provided you measure the right thing.”
If Superintendent Luna seeks to close a revenue gap, if Idaho wants a better school system, it will have to pay for it. Shouldn’t we be willing to pay for our children’s future? But before we have to raise taxes, let’s retrieve some money that belongs to the school systems.
Over the last six years, Idaho Land Board forfeited over $21 million to the school system because leaseholders of cottage sites on public lands thought their rental rates were too high: 2.5 percent of appraised value. Moreover, leaseholders accrue and retain 90 percent of the value when the contract is below market rent. Our neighboring states have rental rates ranging from 5.5 percent to 6.0 percent of appraised value. The Land Board seems more concerned with its leaseholder than the beneficiaries of the rent, our schools.
As of December, the Land Board recommended the Department of Lands to divest from the cottage sites in search of a higher grade investment.
While searching for a better investment is good, the state has a history of not putting education or the students first. This is the state that kept rental rates at 2.5 percent because leaseholders were concerned about paying more, when it should have been looking out for the beneficiaries of the endowed lands, the school system.
If Tom Luna wants to put students first, he should let online courses remain an option, reduce class size even if it means raising taxes, re-think merit pay, push for taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and Internet sales, and keep a close eye on the Department of Lands. If they are the trustees of an endowment to education, we need a closer inspection of what they do, and where they invest.
You can reach Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @Tucker849.