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Bush, Wise say digital learning is future of ed

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Idaho's school technology task force, “Six years from now, there's probably not going to be textbooks as we know it. … There won't be paper-driven assessments. … These will all be digitally driven with the ability to get immediate feedback.” He said, “The teachers ought to be prepared for this, they ought to be given the training, they ought to be given the tools to be able to administer and coach.” Bush said his and Wise's Digital Learning Council has set 10 elements for high-quality digital learning, and he reviewed those. “I think you all are really ahead of the game in this regard - you're not just passing laws,” he said. Instead, he said, Idaho is “looking at how do you create the infrastructure so that digital learning can be accessed any time, in any way.”

Bush said, “All across the country, there are efforts under way, so don't feel like you're alone in this effort. Democrats and Republicans are working together to try to transform education on behalf of kids.”

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise told the task force, “Our mission is that every student graduates from high school ready for college and career.” He said, “What digital education and technology does is permit us to draw the best information and content from wherever we can in the world and make it available. … That's what's so exciting.”

Jeb Bush: Idaho school reform laws ‘one of a kind’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking this morning to Idaho's Students Come First Technology Task Force, said he thinks Idaho's laws moving toward requiring online courses and funding them are “one of a kind,” and said he thinks it “will be the models for the rest of the country.”

Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise are addressing the council this morning; the two head the Digital Learning Council, which promotes high-quality digital learning. “You may know this: I'm a Republican,” he said. “You may know this: Gov. Wise is a Democrat.” Bush said, “We share a common bond that we believe education needs to be a national priority, where 50 states and lots of different communities trying different things … create a much better outcome.”

You can listen live here to the presentation from Bush and Wise.

Luna moves on reforms even as referendums to undo them make ballot

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna opened the deliberations of a 39-member task force today that'll help determine how to implement big new school technology investments, even as the Idaho Secretary of State's office issued certificates officially placing three referendums on the November 2012 ballot to overturn the reforms. The final tally, issued Monday, showed each of the three referendum petitions on Luna's “Students Come First” reform bills received more than 74,000 signatures, far more than the required 47,432.

Nevertheless, Luna said today, “We're implementing the law. … It's the law of the land. We can't have the education system in Idaho in limbo, so our job now is to implement this properly. … That's why this committee is meeting today.” House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who serves on the task force, said, “We've got our work ahead of us. … We'll just move forward as if the referendums are not going to pass.”

After a full day of meetings today, including afternoon gatherings of five subcommittees, the task force scheduled to hear Tuesday from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise; you can watch live here. “This is just the beginning,” Luna said. “There's meetings every month from here on out.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Three referendums officially on ballot, more than 74K signatures on each in final count

Official certificates were issued by the Idaho Secretary of State's office today placing three referendums on the November 2012 ballot to give Idaho voters a say on whether to repeal the three major education reform bills enacted by the Legislature this year. In the final count, SB 1108, the bill removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers, got 74,024 signatures, and will be Proposition 1 in November; SB 1110, the bill setting up a merit-pay bonus system, got 74,129 signatures and will be Proposition 2 on the November ballot; and SB 1184, the bill shifting funds from teacher salaries to technology, got 74,922 signatures and will be Proposition 3.

“All three referendums exceed the number of signatures required,” wrote Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst in a letter to Mike Lanza, head of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, in a letter dated today. The signed petitions were delivered to the Secretary of State's office last week in 125 boxes.

Incidentally, I had been using “referenda” to describe the three measures, and was surprised to see my newspaper use “referendums” as the plural, prompting me to look it up. My dictionary says either is acceptable, but the AP stylebook, without explanation, prefers “referendums.” The personal blog of Lord Norton of Louth, a professor of government at the University of Hulls who sits in the British House of Lords, notes, “Referendum is one of those rare gerunds for which there is no plural in Latin. I quote from footnote 1 in David Butler and Austin Ranney’s, Referendums Around the World: ‘We speak of referendums, not referenda, on the advice of the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary: 'Referendum is logically preferable as a plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund referendum has no plural).  The Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning ‘things to be referred’, necessarily connotes a plurality of issues.’ ” So I'll call them referendums.

Luna opens tech task force, says Idaho ed needs ‘comprehensive, systemic change’

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna has opened the first meeting of his “Students Come First” Technology Task Force this morning with a speech calling on Idaho to become a “global leader” in education, saying, “Our economic competition is global and it's focused and it's fierce and unrelenting.” He said, “The fact is that everyone in the world wants our jobs, and for the first time ever they have the means to take them.” Jobs will go “where the educated workforce is,” he said. “Intellectual capacity is the currency of the 21st century, and other countries have figured this out.”

Luna said the answer is “a comprehensive and systemic change” to Idaho's education system, focusing on technology and online learning. “We have to transform every classroom in Idaho. Some are already on the way there,” he said. “This square peg will no longer fit in this round hole no matter how hard we pound on it. … We have to bring 21st century technology and all that it makes possible into every classroom.” He said that's the key to making sure all students have up-to-date educational opportunity, no matter where they live, and despite the state's budget crunch. “Do we wait for the economy to improve, do we wait for increased revenues? We can't,” he said. “We have to be willing to spend the money that we know we have differently in order to give every student equal educational opportunity.”

The 39-member task force will come up with recommendations to the 2012 Legislature on how to implement Luna's program to bring all Idaho's high schools up to a “one-to-one” ratio of mobile computing devices to students in five years, “not just some but all,” Luna said. “This device becomes the textbook for every class, it becomes the word processor,” the calculator, and the tool for myriad other uses. “It's the portal to a world of … knowledge … for every student.” You can watch the meeting live online here.

Idaho won’t pay for Jeb Bush, Bob Wise presentation to ed technology task force

Idaho won't be paying anything to bring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise to Boise next Tuesday to address state schools Supt. Tom Luna's “Students Come First” technology task force, according to Luna's office. “They're just coming on their own - they're paying for their own way, we're not paying for them,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman. “We just invited them and asked if they would be interested to come and present at our technology task force. They had kind of kept track of the legislation as it moved through the session … and were interested. … We asked them if there would be speaking fees involved, and they said no. … They're paying their travel and their hotel. … We are very excited to have them come.”

The two head the Digital Learning Council, a group they launched in 2010 to promote “high quality digital learning.”

Luna schedules Jeb Bush to address first tech task force meeting

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools chief Tom Luna says two former governors will visit Idaho next week to help him kick off the first meeting of his technology task force. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise are expected to make presentations Tuesday when Luna's task force convenes at the Idaho Capitol in Boise. The task force was formed as part of Luna's new education reforms and the group will study the implementation of a laptop program for Idaho high school students. The state will also limit teachers union bargaining rights, introduce merit pay and shift money from salaries to classroom technology as part of Luna's education reforms. Some teachers, parents and students have criticized the measures, prompting a referendum campaign aimed at repealing them.

Statesman: Luna Overplayed Hand

Of course, and for the record, Tom Luna is right. Politicking has no place in public education — especially when K-12’s scarce taxpayer resources are stretched as never before. But the state’s schools superintendent has overplayed his hand and picked a counterproductive public fight with Idaho teachers. In a widely distributed and heavy-handed email, Luna implies that the schools have become campaign headquarters in the drive to overturn his controversial “Students Come First” legislation. His email to the state’s district superintendents, charter school administrators and school board members was light on specifics. Luna said he has received numerous reports of improper political activities in recent weeks — activities that would violate the teachers’ code of ethics, “if substantiated.” That’s a mighty big “if”/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman Editorial Board. More here. (AP file photo)

Question: Which side is to blame for the toxic relationship between Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna and Idaho's teachers?

Luna, teachers tussle over political activity warning

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is warning Idaho teachers they could lose their certification if they participate in recall efforts against him or a referendum effort to repeal his school reform legislation or engage in other political activities on school grounds. Idaho Education Association officials decried the warning, which went out in a statewide email to school districts and school boards on Friday, with IEA President Sherri Wood saying, “Through his email, Luna is trying to shut down a process in which he has a clear political interest.” Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman, said, “We are in no way trying to stop someone from being politically active. We just make sure educators are following the code of ethics.” You can read Luna's full email here, the IEA's full response here, and click below for a full story from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Luna’s office: No big-bucks hires for reforms, just staff shift, promotion

Though rumors are rife that the Idaho state Department of Education has added highly-paid staffers to implement the new “Students Come First” school reform plan, Luci Willits, chief of staff for state schools Supt. Tom Luna, says it's not true. “We're doing what we're asking school districts to do, which is to do things differently” with existing funding, Willits said. “At this point we haven't hired anyone new. All we've done is repurposed positions.” She added, “Everyone's job at the department will be changing under Students Come First.”

Two positions already are changing: Deputy Superintendent Mary Beth Flachbart has been assigned to oversee the implementation of the reforms, which include shifting teacher salary funds to technology investments, implementing a teacher merit-pay bonus program, and phasing in a program to provide one laptop computer or other computing device for every Idaho high school student. Flachbart, who oversees federal programs, special education, Title 1 and school improvement efforts, will continue to be a deputy superintendent; her salary of $89,315 a year (before furloughs) won't change because of the new assignment.

Camille Wells, a program specialist at the department for communication and governmental affairs, will be promoted to a “coordinator” position in which she'll work full-time on Students Come First, Willits said. That will move her up a pay grade; her new salary hasn't been set, but it will rise from the current $34,507 a year (before furloughs) to at least $44,034 a year in the new pay grade. Willits noted that the reform plan is phased over several years. “Some things happen now, some in the future,” she said.

Luna's Department of Education budget for next year will see a 10.5 percent boost in state general funds, but that's in part because a federal grant ended to fund the state's student longitudinal data system and the state is having to pick up those costs, including six positions. The department's budget in total funds will be up 2.8 percent. “We had a 3.5 percent cut overall in the department if you look separately from the longitudinal data system,” Willits said. That system, to track student achievement, was a requirement of receiving federal stimulus funds; Idaho was the last state to implement one. “Those longitudinal data funds can't be used to fund something else,” she said. According to state budget documents, the number of authorized full-time positions at the department will rise from 130 this year to 133 next year; three positions were eliminated due to budget cuts.

Referendum backers say they’re halfway there

Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, the group backing referendum measures on all three major school reform bills that passed this year, has announced it's nearly halfway to its goal of collecting 60,000 signatures on each of the three petitions. The required number is just under 48,000, but Mike Lanza, group chairman, said the 60,000 goal will allow a “cushion” to account for any signatures that can't be verified.

“We are just shy of 30,000 of each of the three petitions,” Lanza said. Click below for the group's full news release.

Luna says he’ll expand ‘Students Come First’ tech task force to 35 members

Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna announced today that he's expanding the 28-member technology task force that will oversee implementation of his “Students Come First” tech plan to add seven additional members - two parents, three local school board members, and two “at-large” members. Of the 28 members already called for in SB 1184, the school reform bill that included the task force, Luna is charged with appointing 17. “Because of overwhelming interest from across Idaho, I have added positions for parents, school board trustees and at-large members to ensure we have broad-based and balanced representation on this task force, which will play a critical role in the implementation of Students Come First,” Luna said. Click below for his full announcement; he's accepting applications and nominations for his appointees to the panel.

Luna can do this because the clause of SB 1184 that calls for the task force, on page 21 of the 24-page bill, says he'll serve as the chairman of the task force and designates particular types of appointments he'll make to the task force “at a minimum,” including four school district superintendents, one head of a virtual public charter school, two secondary school classroom teachers and so forth. The others who get to appoint task force members - the House and Senate, which get two appointments each; the governor's office, which gets one; and the Idaho Education Association, Northwest Professional Educators, Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, and Idaho Digital Learning Academy, each of which get one appointee - don't have that “at a minimum” language.

IEA files suit to challenge SB 1108, the teacher-contracts bill

The Idaho Education Association filed a lawsuit in 4th District Court in Ada County today challenging the constitutionality of SB 1108, the bill to remove most collective bargaining rights from Idaho teachers, and related “trailer” bills including one adding an emergency clause to that measure. “Because the Legislature, Gov. Otter and State Superintendent Luna failed to listen to the voices of Idaho citizens and, in the case of SB 1108 and the trailer bills, overstepped their legal bounds, the IEA supports citizen efforts to place referenda on the ballot challenging the Luna laws,” said Sherri Wood, IEA president.  “Likewise, we will challenge the constitutionality of SB 1108 and the trailer bills.”

You can read the group's legal complaint here, and its news release here, and read our full story here at spokesman.com.

Luna Campaign Filing Statement

The Committee to Recall Tom Luna seeks to return accountable leadership to the office of the Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction by removing Tom Luna from elected office. Under Tom Luna’s Leadership, the Idaho legislature has rammed through the three part “Student’s Come First” education reform that will create a series of long lasting damage for Idaho families. Luna did not draw support across the aisle, and he disregarded the will and voice of the majority of Idahoans who will be negatively affected by the reforms.  Mr. Luna no longer represents the best interests of students, parents, teachers, and the public education system. Mr. Luna ran on a pro-education platform consistently reiterating that major reforms were not necessary.  Then, to the contrary, he launched a complete overhaul of the Idaho public education system during the 2011 legislative session/Committee to Recall Tom Luna. More here. (AP photo of Luna Recall campaign director Morgan Hill)

First Lady Defends Luna Ed ‘Reform’

Whether you have been at the head of the classroom or in a desk on the other end, you know the importance of quality teaching. It makes all the difference. With the help of a great teacher, a struggling student can excel. Under an ineffective teacher, that student may never catch up. We know this from our own school experiences, as well as extensive research. The teacher is and always will be the most important factor in student success. If we truly want to put students first, we have to make sure we invest in Idaho’s teachers.  That’s exactly what the Students Come First plan does. As a former teacher, I am excited about the possibilities this plan provides for great teachers now and in the future. Some have claimed this plan “devalues teachers.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the only option that actually invests in teachers/Lori Otter, Office of the First Lady. More here. (AP file photo of Gov. Otter and Miss Lori)

Question: Why do you think proponents are rolling out the heavy hitters like First Lady Lori Otter to defend Tom Luna's radical education “reform” plans? After all, they're winning the legislative battle.