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News >  Idaho

Latest school reform ad charges kids treated as ‘widgets’

BOISE - The latest TV campaign commercial from opponents of the education reform propositions on Idaho’s November ballot focuses on Proposition 2, the teacher merit-pay measure, suggesting that Idaho’s state schools superintendent wants to “treat children like widgets.” The measure sets up a new merit-pay bonus system for Idaho teachers, allowing teachers to earn bonuses if their entire school shows growth in student test scores on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test. The law also allows bonuses for other student-achievement measures set by individual school districts, and next year, would cover additional bonuses for teachers who take leadership roles or hold hard-to-fill positions. The ad says, “Every child in Idaho is unique, but Tom Luna in his Propositions 1, 2 and 3 treat children like widgets. You see, Prop 2 links teacher pay to standardized testing results of Idaho kids.” That linkage is accurate, though backers of the measure contend it’s an incomplete description because it doesn’t include the other factors that also could lead to bonuses. Luna takes issue with the “widget” claim. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “The system we had before treated students as widgets and teachers like assembly line workers. It moved students through the system without consideration of their individual skills or needs, and paid teachers solely based on years of experience and education credits rather than their performance in the classroom. Because of Proposition 2, teachers can now be compensated like the professionals they are, having the opportunity to earn bonuses in addition to their base salary.” The ad also says, “Like No Child Left Behind, Prop 2 takes away local control and puts even more emphasis on teaching to the test.” That claim cites what’s been a hot-button issue in Idaho: The federal No Child Left Behind law’s system for determining whether schools are failing, based on how many students, including those in various sub-groups, fail to test as “proficient” on tests. Idaho just this week received a waiver from that law to move to a different rating system that, in addition to proficiency, takes into account student improvement on test scores along with other factors measuring readiness for careers or post-secondary education. Luna, the author of the three laws being tested in Propositions 1, 2 and 3, pushed hard for the waiver and bemoaned the NCLB rating system, under which 40 percent of Idaho’s schools failed to meet proficiency standards last year. Under the new 5-star system, for the same year, more than half of the state’s schools achieved a four-star or five-star rating, while just 15 percent earned one or two stars. A quarter fell in the middle, with three stars. The ad concludes, “We need to make sure our kids are critical thinkers, not just good test takers. Prop 2’s one-size-fits-all approach is a bad fit for Idaho kids. Vote no on the Luna laws, Props 1, 2 and 3.” “The argument of teaching to a test, not taking into account critical thinking, is a typical argument against standardized testing,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University. “It seems to me in this ad they hit a lot of hot buttons, particularly relating to local control.” The commercial uses some of the same footage and graphics used in two earlier ads from the “No on Props 1, 2, 3” campaign that focused on Proposition 1, restricting teacher collective bargaining rights, and Proposition 3, requiring laptop computers and online courses and for every Idaho high school student, among other technology boosts. A “yes” vote on the propositions would keep the laws in place; a “no” vote would repeal them. Like the earlier ads, the new commercial is running statewide, including the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene TV market.
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