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The Strange Life, Times of Tom Luna

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Since Tom Luna won election as superintendent of public instruction in 2006, he has championed the fact that Idaho students were making very good progress academically despite the state ranking 49th in the nation in per capita expenditure for students. In fact Idaho students were above their peers in terms of science scores, reading and math.

Luna claimed that much of this was due to his leadership, the inclusion of all stakeholders in the decision making process and several new initiatives. This was certainly evidenced by the Math Initiative, Teacher Evaluation Program and some pioneering online education approaches. These initiatives were supported by the Legislature. He noted Idaho had many outstanding teachers although the vast majority had not had any pay increase for three years.

As one constituent wrote me, “While running for office this past fall Mr. Luna praised education in Idaho noting student test scores in science were well above the national average, and he noted that under his leadership the educational system was moving ahead.”

In early January, Luna unveiled his revolutionary education reform plan.

He issued a cry that the Idaho K-12 system was in shambles and only desperate measures could save the situation.

Luna’s new plan would increase class size (resulting in more than 700 teachers losing their jobs), require high school students to take two online classes per year to graduate, provide every ninth-grader with a laptop, a pay-for-performance plan for teachers, eliminating tenure for teachers and several other changes.

Luna touted himself as an inclusionary leader during his 2006 campaign.

He stressed during the campaign, and during his first four years in office, that as head of the Idaho K-12 system he would involve all of the major stakeholders in key educational policy decisions.

When we look at his performance in meeting the inclusionary standard in the development of his new plan we are sadly disappointed. Major stakeholders, including the Idaho Education Association (teachers), PTA, State School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, and Idaho universities and colleges were not involved.

Russ Westerberg, president of the State Board of Education, was asked if the board had any input into the process. The answer was no. It seems odd that Luna, as a member of the board, didn’t even casually mention the plan to any of board members. This should raise all sorts of red flags because the state board oversees K-12 education in the state. I asked UI President Duane Nellis if he or any of his faculty has been consulted. The answer was no.

Some of the components Luna overlooked are: lack of a pilot program that demonstrates tangible success; lack of wide-spread involvement of all the stakeholders; lack of multiple solutions to test and evaluate; and using approaches that have failed for other school systems. Recently I received three calls from suppliers of laptop computers, software and curriculum supplies urging me to support the new plan. I also noted that a number of the Albertson Foundation Board members came out in support of Luna. A local reporter noted these individuals all had ties to the private educational company K12 based in Virginia. If the plan is approved then millions of dollars will flow from the Idaho taxpayer to out-of-state educational companies. Out of concern I checked Luna’s list of campaign contributions. A substantial number of donations came from the out-of-state private educational companies.

Joe Kren, Potlatch School District superintendent, reported, “It is public knowledge that K12 inc. provided at least $25,000 to Luna’s 2010 campaign.”

Rep. Tom Trail from Moscow is a member of the Idaho House of Representatives.