Reign of Error

Dear Diane Ravitch,

The title of your book, Reign of Error, describes perfectly the tenure of Idaho’s twice elected Chief School Officer Superintendent Tom Luna.

Mr. Luna chaired the Idaho commission that developed academic standards for all grades and subjects from 1997 to 2000. Then from 2000 to 2002, he chaired our assessment and accountability commission to create a test for new standards. Plus, as the state superintendent, he created the switch from the “needs improvement” rankings of No Child Left Behind to a rating system based on “stars.”

Seventeen years of directing change in education in Idaho, really?

Against the urging of one of his closest allies in education reform, Governor Butch Otter who said “Don’t make these decisions when you’re getting beat up by the editorial vigilantes,” Luna will not run for another term. He will, however, with the time left in his term, continue to push for the same “changes” he pushed previously.

Those changes were sold as reform, modernization, and innovation with Luna now being credited as the innovator. Those familiar with the Michelle Rhee StudentsFirst political agenda will see this for what it is —unbridled standardization and privatization by limiting collective bargaining, implementing test-based teacher accountability, and getting more technology into every students hands without regard to costs. In a state that is dead last in per-pupil spending, this is irresponsible not innovative. Class size be damned!

Voters resoundingly defeated these “Students Come First” laws, yet, they are back in another form and their first defeat is already being rewritten in history. “I believed (Luna’s teacher pay proposal) and Students Come First were exactly what students of Idaho needed,” Shackett [a local superintendent] said. “Unfortunately, the public was, I believe, duped into thinking otherwise by a strong campaign against the initiatives.”

Lawmakers now are poised to set the people straight by passing the same initiatives using different terminology and Common Core as the next best tool in the box.
Seventeen years of following the same test-based theories of reform and their diagnosis is we need higher standards, better tests with them secured to teacher pay, and the best technology we can buy (obviously forgetting we are the state with the highest percent of minimum wage jobs and the lowest per-capita income).

Not to appear to be a bullying Mr. Luna after having been a long-time editorial vigilante, I have tried in earnest – multiple times – to have conversations with him even going as far as offering to help write our Race to the Top grant in hopes – I will admit – of working in effective schools research to help struggling schools. I feel bad that I have to “go after” this one person but I do.

His reign of error won’t end with the end of his term if his chief reform philosophy is embedded in law.

Standardized test-based accountability does not “work” to improve schools. But the error of Mr. Luna’s ways doesn’t end there. He is continuing to use double-speak to pull the wool over people’s eyes. If people believe he has done Idaho schools such a great favor in implementing his accountability schemes for a generation of students, how can they ignore the findings of the system created by this philosophy?

“By far the biggest problems, based on the reports, are found in Mississippi and Idaho, which seem to be struggling most with how to help the 15 percent of their schools with the lowest test scores and the largest achievement gaps.”computer-159320_150

Mr. Luna and his supporters say we need Common Core, tests, technology, and teacher pay tied to tests; I hear differently from people in the trenches and say we need a “needs assessment” and analysis of our lowest-performing schools done by independent, highly-qualified, outside evaluators. These schools are the same ones we have identified in three different ways now — how can we think we need to do it again with “higher standards and better tests”?

The Reign of Error must end!

Respectfully and with Thanks,
Dr. Victoria M. Young

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