Note: This is part 2 in a five-installment series of interviews with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.
It’s been a tumultuous year for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. He waged a battle in the Idaho Legislature over education reform and won, but took some hits in the process.
After the challenge, there is at least one thing he’d do over if he had the chance: Luna told IdahoReporter.com that he would have changed his message about personal computers for students.
He also said that if the reform package he championed fails to achieve educational goals, the majority of the responsibility will be on local school boards to make changes and corrections to make the plan work, though Luna said state lawmakers or his department might act, if necessary.
In a wide-ranging interview, Luna said that if he could, he would go back and change how he told lawmakers and the general public about students gaining more access to personal computers – laptops or tablets – through his reform package. He said that characterizing “giving” students laptops may have been misinterpreted through the public debate and discussion of reforms.
“If I could go back and change that one phrase, I would have said that we want to give every student equal access to the technology that will help give them an opportunity to learn at the highest levels,” Luna explained.
The Republican superintendent said reform plan enemies intentionally misled the public on the technological portion of the package to discourage support for it.
“That phrase was jumped on by opponents of the whole plan,” Luna said. “By the time they got done spinning it, you would have thought that our plan was a student shows up the first day of school and we give them a laptop and once they’ve had their fill of pornography, they hock it at the nearest pawn shop and we never see them or the laptop again.”
Luna also commented on what will happen if his reform package doesn’t achieve the desired results. The state and the Legislature, the superintendent explained, are able to make tweaks to education programs faster because of his reform package. “We have put in place a flexible system so we can make changes quickly,” Luna explained.
But, some of the task of ensuring the reforms succeed will fall on local school boards, who Luna says were given more power in his plan. “Local school boards are going to be able to make decisions because they have complete control over their policy manuals,” he explained. “They can make decisions that adapt to current conditions. They didn’t have that control before.”
The Idaho Department of Education will continually monitor student progress to ensure that reforms are improving schools in the Gem State, the superintendent said. But if the plan isn’t successful, more work may need to be done by the state and lawmakers. “If we’re not meeting goals and objectives, then we have to make changes to it,” Luna said.
Coming Wednesday: Luna says there may be some tweaks to his education reform package. Video for the series by Mitch Coffman, IdahoReporter.com.