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Students misled regarding education reform efforts

Students misled regarding education reform efforts

Wayne Hoffman
March 8, 2011

It's a bit disquieting to watch our schoolchildren be manipulated into believing that Public School Superintendent Tom Luna is attacking our state's education system. He's not. But students have been fed such propaganda via our own classrooms, that a raucous group has been huddling on the Statehouse steps chanting "kill the bill," not knowing, really, which of three bills they want killed, nor what is in any of them.

Or maybe our kids do know what's in the three bills and they're making an informed choice to protest them. Maybe our kids are just really worked up over Luna's proposal to limit collective bargaining agreements to salaries and benefits, require unions to show they represent at least 50 percent of the educators at the school and require public meetings when school boards and labor organizations negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. Perhaps these kids can't stand the idea that teachers be made aware of their options with regard to liability insurance. Maybe our children are protesting the provisions that begin the phase out of tenure for teachers, or make sure our best teachers are rewarded for their hard work. Perhaps students are most irritated over the provision that increases the state's starting teacher salaries to $30,000 a year.

Obviously, most students don't know, and likely don't care, about those details contained in two Senate bills that are expected to be voted on the House floor early this week. And the teachers' union is quite content to keep it that way. The students are protesting the amorphous concept known only as "the bill" or "the Luna plan" and that's all that matters. The teachers' union hopes student anger spills over into parental anger, and that motivates the Legislature to reject the legislation.

I'm certain our kids are vaguely aware of provisions of a third bill, bottled up in the Senate, that would boost the reliance on technology in the classroom, and make online courses part of the graduation requirements. The objection to that legislation is based primarily on the myth, devised by the teachers' union, that the bill calls for teachers to be replaced with computers. Total nonsense. What's not nonsense is that almost every job, at some level or another, from the cashier at McDonalds to the corporate executive, depends on the use of computers and other technologies. Why are our public schools still a digital barrier, when they're supposed to be preparing our kids academically for the world of work or for higher education? How does it help our kids shield them from technology just because they're at school? In two years, five years or 10 years, do we think we'll have more computers and technology, or less?

There is no question that before us is a fork in the road: One road leads us to the biggest reforms to public schools we've seen in many years, a chance to give our kids the world's very best public education system -- a system they most certainly deserve. The other road leads back to the public education system we've always had, the system that the teachers' union is content to have us keep, the system that we acknowledge is failing our children. Which would really benefit all those kids who are protesting "the bill," and which would benefit the union and other adults in the system? Which road should lawmakers choose?

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