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Luna Laws ignore basic business principles

From a business perspective, the Luna Laws don’t pass muster for two important reasons: they are based on an outdated and discredited management philosophy and were formulated without any data supporting the purported problem or the proposed solutions.

In an article in Pacific Standard magazine, Greg Anrig notes how today’s education “reformers” embrace Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “scientific management,” a top-down, carrot-and-stick approach to organizations whose track record is dubious and whose application to schools is wholly inappropriate.

Taylor’s philosophy stemmed from a fundamental distrust of workers, who needed to have their roles and tasks defined precisely, their performance and efficiency measured regularly, and their pay tied to individual productivity. Sound familiar? This is exactly how Tom Luna and lawmakers have treated Idaho’s teaching force, who are now leaving the state and the profession in record numbers (Nearly 1900 departed last year, as compared to 700 the year before the Luna Laws passed).

Those pushing “Students Come First” don’t trust teachers or administrators, and thus didn’t include them in conversations intended to remake education. That’s akin to building a new skyscraper without consulting engineers or architects. Like Taylor, they think that the only way they can coax better performance out of educators is to shame and threaten them, impose competitive pressures, take away their voices, and link their pay to student test scores. They conclude that dangling a few extra dollars in front of teachers will make them work harder or boost student achievement.

Study after study, however, shows this approach doesn’t work. “Merit pay” data, including two comprehensive studies from Vanderbilt University and the National Academies (including National Academy of Sciences and National Council of Engineering) demonstrate that the student performance effects of “incentive” programs are effectively zero.

The net effect here has been demoralized teachers and widespread flight from a system that undervalues its workforce. Real reform might have been accomplished and embraced had state leaders looked to Deming’s “total quality management” philosophy, which emphasizes the collaborative sharing of ideas and data between workers and management and the use of metrics as diagnostic, rather than evaluative or punitive tools.

Deming is often credited with the phrase, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” This is where Superintendent Luna comes up empty. We have no clear identification of the perceived problem—just a vague assertion that things in schools must get better. Let’s assume we can agree that Idaho isn’t sending enough kids on to post-secondary education (a very real challenge in Idaho). Where’s the evidence showing that giving students laptops will increase college-going rates? What data shows correlation between diminished collective bargaining rights for teachers and college graduation rates? Who says that students taught in a merit pay system will be more likely to further their education after high school? What data show that high school graduates lack familiarity or aptitude with technology?

The answer is that there aren’t any such data. The entire scheme rests on rhetoric and overblown promises rather than rigorous analysis of what works in schools.

Thus, there is no real business case for this ill-conceived scheme. We should reject the Luna Laws, regroup, and begin anew a discussion of true reform. And this time let’s bring everyone to the table—educators, parents, businesspeople, school boards, community leaders—and build consensus around evidence-based solutions to clearly defined problems.

Brian Cronin is an outgoing state legislator; a communications consultant for the Vote No on Propositions 1, 2, 3 campaign; Senior Vice President of Strategies 360; and parent to two fourth-graders. He has founded and operated four small businesses and has consulted for Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and non-profits.


About Brian Cronin


  1. @Teri – If you are worried about lawsuits from angry parents do what the rest of us (professionals) do, purchase liability insurance. That’s something the union has probably never even told you existed. My guess is that it would be a lot cheaper than your annual union dues.

  2. @CSUN Your question is what other profession allows people not in a profession to dictate to them? Try every profession except teaching. In retail, it’s the customer dictating to the store owner. In law or accounting it’s federal government regulations. In real estate it’s state regulations. This is something that teachers unions don’t understand because the profession has become accustomed to having a state superintendent who will rubber stamp the union agenda. The fact is that, just like other professions, in teaching there are numerous constituencies to serve not just the union bosses. As a product of Idaho public schools I got the impression that the union people were only in it for themselves and couldn’t have cared less about me. They protected teachers that should have been fired and got rid of good teachers that wouldn’t tow their line. In my view any law that gets them out of the classroom and out of the teachers’ way is a good law.

  3. A few points we should not forget:
    1. Brian Cronin is being paid to be an opponent of Propositions 1,2, & 3.
    2. The United States is the second highest spender per capita on education, but just ahead of Jordan on performance (4+ year old data).
    3. Idaho is one of the worst education states in the nation.
    4. What private sector business promotes or terminates based solely upon tenure, or what private sector business does not promote based upon results, attitude, teamwork, etc., all determined by management?
    5. What union advocates for the employer or the customer, as the Teacher’s Unions are claiming in this battle?
    Our current system is broken, and even if repairs are not perfect, they are better than status quo.

  4. The current education system does not produce the results required for the economy now or in the future. The legislature, charitable foundations and informed people of all sorts recognize that pouring money into a system that hasn’t kept pace with the world around it will not produce the needed results. These laws are a start in replacing the status quo with a modern, flexible and effective education system.

  5. The Luna Laws are bad all the way around. Why? Because people who are not in the profession; people who don’t teach are telling the people who do how do best do their job. What other profession allows this? Don’t they know if we thought the Props would help our kids we would say “bring them on!” Pretty soon Luna and his supporters are going to start telling Coach Pete how to coach, Micron how to build computer chips, and Apple how to build a better Iphone. I am sad that everyone doesn’t listen to the teachers; don’t invite us to the table to talk about reform. Trust us. We are in this for the kids. What is Luna and his supporters in it for?

    Also, What evidence do they have that throwing computers, pay for performance, and limited bargaining at the program will solve anything? I haven’t seen any data proving anything-and I’ve asked for it.

    Before anyone gets to decide how to make education better, I think they should actually participate in the education process. Spend a month in my classroom and then I will listen when you give me some educated advice on how to improve education.

  6. Teachers in Idaho don’t have tenure. I don’t understand why so many people are so upset about tenure when it is already against Idaho state policy. Some districts offer teachers continuing contracts, which means that instead of re-hiring teachers every year, teachers are offered contracts that automatically renew every year. This is only after a teacher has been proven to be a success – teachers have to earn a renewing contract. This doesn’t mean that teachers in Idaho can never be fired, or that it makes it really hard to be fired. Teachers work in a unique situation – they work closely with other peoples children. Some people – especially in today’s society – have a warped expectation of how teachers should treat their children. In some schools teachers jobs are threatened if they don’t award grades that keep star athletes eligible for sports. Teachers have been threatened with the “I’m good friends with the Superintendent, my student deserves an A.” Some parents of elementary age children have outrageous demands. Teachers in two different schools I’ve worked had have had parents request that teachers help their children clean themselves after using the toilet. (These students were not physically or cognitively impaired in any way – one of them was 10 years old). I had a parents report me to the principal – after first yelling and screaming in my face – because her child was not allowed to be first in line. I had a policy of children taking turns being first, and she thought that since it meant a lot to her daughter to be first, that I should let her be first all the time. I was lucky, and my principal sided with me. This is not always the case, employees at schools are subject to favoritism and “office politics” just like any other work place. Teachers unions protect teachers from outrages charges in many ways, but most importantly by helping them with the high financial cost of defending themselves against frivolous complaints and law-suits. Unions do not protect horrible teachers, in fact, it is in their best interest to preserve the professional status of their group. Teachers are professionals, and should be treated as such. My husband does not have to be re-hired for his job every year. He has had the same job for 15 years and never had to sign a new contract. Is that computer analysis tenure??

  7. Those pushing “Students Come First” don’t trust teachers or administrators, and thus didn’t include them in conversations intended to remake education. That’s akin to building a new skyscraper without consulting engineers or architects.

    1)Its more akin to building a skyscraper without consulting office workers.

    2) Cronin may be right about there not being any data (I honestly don’t know as I have just started my own research) but if there isn’t then somebody has to take the plunge and be the first to create the data.

    3) Tenure at any level for any job sucks. There should be protections in place to keep people from being unjustly fired but I have been in and out of school my whole life and I have run into more than one teacher who has lost perspective, doesn’t care, is focused on something else like publishing a book, or just can’t do the job. They are a minority but the process for reviewing their performance and making appropriate adjustments, including dismissal if justified, is way too convoluted and time consuming.

  8. Here’s the major problem with Cronin’s reasoning as it relates to Edwards Deming and the TQM philosophy. First, TQM was designed for manufacturing. That’s ironic because the No campaign has an entire ad devoted to the idea that children aren’t widgets. I digressed. TQM assumes that both parties want to collaborate. The problem isn’t labor or management – it’s what’s between them. The unions place unrealistic demands such as teacher tenure as a pre-condition for negotiation. Tenure is the idea that teachers cannot be terminated, except in rare cases. It originated at the college level and exists still today. College professors may not even attain tenured status yet a K-12 public school teacher can achieve tenured status in two years. That means that if that teacher is an ineffective teacher, they can’t be fired. It’s issues like tenure, pushed by unions, that create distrust. Cronin has actually unwittingly made a great case against his cause by citing TQM. As a parent, I love great teachers. The problem is that not all teachers are great teachers and it’s time to hold them and the unions they hide behind, accountable. That’s partially why I voted YES on all three propositions.