[Vision2020] Moscow Teacher Voices Concern Over Luna Reforms

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Tue Apr 26 06:39:11 PDT 2011

Courtesy of today's (April 26, 2011) Moscow-Pullman Daily News.


SIDEWALK SERIES: The ground floor of education: Moscow teacher voices
concern over Luna reforms
By Devin Rokyta, Daily News Staff Writer

Moscow teacher Stacy Albrecht was blindsided earlier this year by what
some would describe as a wave of attacks on teachers that spread
throughout the nation, starting in Wisconsin, where laws were passed
sharply curbing collective bargaining rights.

It didn't lessen the shock when similar reforms were proposed and
subsequently passed in Idaho.

"I think the biggest issue as professional educators ... (is) we were not
a part of this whole plan, we weren't invited in as a stakeholder and
asked will this plan work in the schools. We were completely left out and
didn't know about the plans until they were already going to the
Legislature," the Russell Elementary School teacher. "... Who knows better
about what's going on in the field of education better than educators? We
know what is going on in the classroom, we are the ground floor. We are
the ones that need to be listened to about what really works with
children, and what's really helpful for them and what isn't."

The reforms, proposed by Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom
Luna, strip teachers of certain collective bargaining privileges,
implement a merit pay system, and reduce teacher base salaries in order to
fund technological upgrades for classrooms.

Albrecht has taught for nine years in the Moscow School District, serving
the last two as the president of the Moscow Education Association.

It's a profession she's always seemed drawn to. As a high school student
in Rathdrum, she spent time working with children in the library and
helping with summer reading programs. When it came time for college, it
didn't take her long to choose the educational field.

"I started out thinking I wanted to be in the business profession, but I
didn't go more than my first year of college before I went back to
teaching," she said.

Despite the low pay - the average beginning salary of a teacher in Idaho
is $31,581, compared to $35,018 across the border in Washington, according
to numbers from the National Education Association - and sometimes
grueling hours, it's been a natural fit for the 42-year-old mother of two.

"I like the challenge of teaching, I like trying to figure out what's
going to work with a child," she said. "Each child is different, each
class is different, it's never the same. I can never use the same teaching
strategies I used before. I might come back to them with certain children,
but teaching is always a challenge to figure out how to reach somebody,
how to get them the knowledge they need, what's going to make their eyes
light up, make them sit up and take notice of what your teaching."

To get their attention, Albrecht doesn't shy away from dancing, singing
silly songs or cracking the occasional joke. Most of all, she tries to
incorporate real world experiences into her lesson plans, which is
reinforced by Russell Elementary's schoolwide economy, which uses Ram
Bucks as its currency. Students can earn Ram Bucks for performing
classroom tasks or good behavior, which in turn can be used to rent yoga
balls to sit on, lay claim to the prime desk locations or purchase items
at the Russell Market, held monthly. On the same token, students who act
up face fines.

But the reforms handed down by Luna and the state Legislature may actually
discourage such creativity and the formation of similar programs in the
future. According to Department of Education estimates, Luna's reforms
will eliminate the jobs of about 770 teachers over the next five years,
thereby increasing classroom sizes and teacher workload. The money saved
in the reduction of the teacher work force will partly be used to
introduce more technology into classrooms, namely providing each
ninth-grader in the state with a laptop, which will be used to complete
online courses.

"There's still all these questions about how is this really going to work.
I don't see rural Idaho being able to pull off this much technology
successfully," Albrecht said.

The new laws also will give teachers less stability by not only
restricting collective bargaining agreements, but phasing out "tenure" for
new educators and current teachers who have yet to obtain a continuing
contract. New educators will instead be offered one- to two-year contracts
following a three-year probationary period. Teachers with seniority also
won't be safe when school districts reduce their work force.

Albrecht said many teachers won't know until summer whether or not they
will be retained for the following year.

"It's going to make our jobs a lot tougher," she said. "... We already
know we're going to have a shortfall at Moscow School District, which
means that there won't be as many school teachers next year, whether it's
through attrition or just not hiring back category teachers, there will
not be as many, which means our classrooms will be fuller.

"... We have people looking outside of Idaho for jobs. ... Why would you
stay if you don't know until mid-July if you are going to have a job for
the next year? People want to know that they have a little bit of security
in the profession they've chosen."

The bills also introduce performance-based pay, which Albrecht said she's
not entirely against, although she doesn't believe it will have the
desired effect of increasing teacher productivity and attracting better

"I feel like I give 110 percent and more to my kids now," she said. "I
don't think performance-based pay is going to help me improve as a
teacher. It's not going to make me do anything more than I wouldn't
already do for my kids - I give them everything when I'm in the classroom
because that's what my job requires of me and that's what my profession
requires of me. To think that a little bit more pay in the paycheck is
going to make me jump that much further, I just don't see that."

Albrecht said the teachers' loss of collective bargaining power won't just
affect teachers, but also will have consequences for students. Collective
bargaining allows teachers to not only negotiate for their own personal
gain, but for the benefit of the class environment, such as reducing class
sizes, implementing technology, and ensuring arts and music programs.

"The teachers' work environment and the students' learning environment are
connected, you can't really have one without the other," she said.

The reforms don't just impact Albrecht's professional life, but also her
personal life, as her children, who will be entering the eighth and ninth
grades, won't escape the impact of the reforms. It's a prospect that
worries their mother.

"As a parent, I'm really concerned about what their educational experience
is going to look like," she said. "... My goal for my kids is to come out
of high school with a solid education ready to go in to college, and I
don't think being face to face with a computer is going to create that
solid education. Teachers create that solid education."


Seeya round town, Moscow.

Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho

"The Pessimist complains about the wind, the Optimist expects it to
changeand the Realist adjusts his sails."

 - Unknown

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