The head of the Idaho Education Association (IEA), a voluntary teachers’ union, is not thrilled with many facets of a public schools reform package proposed last week by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

But Sherri Wood, executive director of the IEA, also says there is some good in the proposal.

The package calls for cutting at least 700 teaching positions through attrition, investing $50 million throughout the next five year on technological upgrades for classrooms – including spending $7 million annually on laptops for  ninth graders, – replacing teacher tenure with two-year rolling contracts, and requiring that educator contract negotiations be held in public meetings.  The plan also seeks to restrict contract negotiations to pay and benefits for educators, and not any discussions of work conditions or requirements.

Fudging the numbers?

Luna said the reduction of the 700 teaching positions through the next five years will fund the entire reform package, but will also mean an increase in classroom sizes, adding that most classes will only see an additional 1.6 students.  Idaho averages about 18.2 children per classroom, a number that will jump to 19.8 if the reform package clears the Legislature.

Wood thinks the superintendent might be fudging the numbers because of how the state determines student-to-teachers ratios.  To get the figure, she explained, the Idaho Department of Education takes the total number of students in a given school and divides it by the number of employees certified as educators in that school, even if some employees don’t have direct student contact or might be special education teachers with very small class sizes.

But even if the figure Luna gave for the increase in class sizes is correct, Wood feels it’s still detrimental to students.  “I don’t believe that it will only be two students, but two more is too many,” she said.

Student-to-teacher ratios

Wood says that the increase in the student-to-teacher ratios will ultimately hurt Idaho school kids because students will get less of their teacher’s time in class.  That one-on-one contact time, she explained, can be critical to even the smartest students who might be struggling with a specific concept or idea.

Luna argued in his presentation of the plan before lawmakers that no research study ever determined that class sizes are correlated with student performance.  Wood says no study is needed to figure out the negative correlation.  “Whether you can find valid research or not, it is just common sense that the fewer [students] you have, the easier it is to deal with,” Wood said.

Elimination of tenure

The media has, says Wood, a misconceived notion about what tenure really means.  It is not, she says, a lifetime work contract with school districts, but instead a protection for teachers from the politics of schools and districts.  It does not guarantee bad teachers infinite employment, but only due process for educators.  “There is a process for that and if the administrator follows the process, it happens,” said Wood.

Teacher accountability

The Luna plan will, according to the superintendent, bring more accountability to schools and districts by engaging parents and having them be a part of teacher evaluations.  Accountability is fine, says Wood, but it should be spread throughout the entire Gem State.  “I never heard a teacher say ‘I don’t want to be held accountable,’” explained Wood.  “What I heard them say is that, ‘accountability is great, but we want everyone who plays in this game to be held accountable.’” State policy leaders and lawmakers, Wood said, must also be held to account for Idaho’s education system.

Open negotiations

Part of Luna’s package is to force teachers and school boards to negotiate educator contracts in public meetings.   Wood says she has no problem with that idea.  “I think it’s great,” said Wood, adding that her sentiment has surprised some.  “The media is very shocked by that.”  Open negotiations will help bring more civility to the process, which she says can sometimes get out of hand.

Idaho public schools in 10 years

If the reforms Luna wants are approved this year and implemented through the next five, Wood says, Idaho public schools might not be any further ahead in 10 years, at least educationally speaking.  “I’m not sure what was laid-out to us Wednesday by Luna is the end-all, be-all of education reform,” said Wood.  The IEA feels that Luna should also look at integrating lesson plans and break down walls among various school departments – meaning the geography, math, and science departments would collaborate on curriculum – to more effectively educate pupils.

Note: Read a summary of Luna’s plan here.

Join the discussion


About The Author

Dustin Hurst serves as the Communication Director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He graduated from Boise State in 2009. His work has been featured by Fox News, Townhall, Public Sector Inc., the Daily Caller, Reason, Human Events, the Spokesman Review and more. He and his wonderful wife Julia have two cute kids. The family resides in Middleton.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Samantha Davis, Dustin Hurst. Dustin Hurst said: I would like to thank @IdahoEdAssoc prez. Sherri Wood for talking to me (on video!) about @TomLuna's reform plan: […]

  2. As a retired Idaho educator and former daycare provider, I would like to respond to Sherri Wood’s comments. She is absolutely correct in emphasizing the importance of classroom size. It does not take a myriad of studies to conclude that even a small increase of students in a classroom lessens the volume of material covered, one-to-one time with each student, and the general quality of the academic environment.

    Most parents want, and should expect, their child to be nurtured intellectually and emotionally by their teacher. Teachers want, and should expect, our representatives to assist in that endeavor by providing an adequate budget necessary for the task.

    It is a sad testament to our values as a nation when poor legislation creates a classroom atmosphere where a student and teacher are barely able to notice one another, or the teacher is forced to resign himself to feeling like a army sergeant because of the classroom’s size.

  3. […] planned reforms have already come under fire from the Idaho Education Association, which represents teachers, and Idaho Democrats. Many lawmakers haven’t come out supporting or […]

  4. […] revolve around an education reform plan backed by state schools superintendent Tom Luna that has come under fire from the Idaho Education Association […]

  5. Interesting article and Link:

    Mike Ditto wrote the following letter to the Idaho State Journal. His wife is a first grade teacher in Pocatello.

    Mike Ditto

    515 S. 10th Ave.

    Pocatello, ID 83201

    February 5, 2011 Ph: 232-4111 (H)

    234-7541 (W)

    To the editor, Idaho State Journal:

    After wondering why Tom Luna is in such a dang-blasted rush to provide laptops to all Idaho high school freshmen and require all high schoolers to take at least 6 online credits, I remembered Deep Throat‘s exhortation to Woodward and Bernstein: Follow the money.

    I accessed the Idaho Secretary of State website for election information and dug up Luna=s campaign financial disclosure reports for 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. They actually make for some interesting reading. Not surprisingly, the republican candidate received many large campaign contributions from timber, dairy, agriculture and mining interests. Micron, Tamarack, Simplot and Melaleuca were the most generous Idaho business contributors. There are also a few contributions that seem pretty innocuous at first glance, but on closer review raise some interesting questions.

    While at the U.S. Department of Education, Luna worked for then-secretary, Rod Paige. Rod contributed $1,000 for Luna=s 2006 campaign, and $500 for the 2010 campaign. Rod currently is Senior Advisor for Madison Education Group, a McLean VA entity that provides consulting services for educators, and claims the country“s largest for-profit university, (which I believe is the University of Phoenix) as a client. Madison contributed $2,000 to Luna=s 2010 campaign.

    The University of Phoenix (Meridian campus), contributed $1,000 to Luna‘s 2010 campaign, while its corporate parent, the Apollo Group, Inc., contributed $2,500. Both the Apollo Group and the University of Phoenix were cast in a very bad light last August in the GAO=s scathing report on for-profit education. Moreover, according to Apollo=s 2010 annual report, its founder, Dr. John Sperling, received compensation of about $6.9 million in 2010, while Dr. William Pepicello, president of the University of Phoenix, received about $2 million. Several other Apollo Group executives received compensation in the 7-figure range. Since most of Apollo=s income is derived from federal student grants and loans, one may wonder whether taxpayer money is being wisely spent on for-profit education

    Luna also received contributions from several online educational providers: the Nashville-based Education Networks of America, $1,500; the Pittsburgh-based Apangea, $2,500; the Baltimore-based Connections Academy, $500. K12, a Herndon VA company that offers an online public school, contributed $10,000 in 2006. This is significant because no other contribution exceeded $5,000.

    Continuing to follow the money, you will find when visiting the K12 website, and then search for a public school in Idaho, the user is directed to a link for the Idaho Virtual Academy. Hmmm… in return for a $10,000 contribution, I wonder if Luna=s grand plan of 6 online credits for high schoolers in any way will involve the Idaho Virtual Academy B and help fill K12 coffers. I also wonder, besides a $10,000 contribution, what other perks K12 provided to Luna.

    Though the contributions were perfectly legal, one could conclude that the for-profit education folks were instrumental in getting their man elected. One could also conclude that, in light of his grand plan to overhaul education in Idaho, Luna is returning the favor.

    For-profit educators are not unlike mercenaries B more interested in money than the welfare of students. I certainly wouldn‘t want out-of-state mercenaries teaching my children, and I suspect the majority of Idahoans wouldn‘t either.

    Mike Ditto

    515 S. 10th Ave.

    Pocatello, ID 83201

    February 5, 2011 Ph: 232-4111 (H)

    234-7541 (W)

    The doors of wisdom are never shut.
    Benjamin Franklin

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