Education

Lack of Minority Students in Idaho Charters

Guest Editorial by Levi Cavener

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Levi B Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org

Time to Fix Idaho’s Charter Schools

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.

On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities’ demographics.

A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here’s why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services — such as special education and English Language Learner instruction — local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is…wait for it…to build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report’s findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn’t minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It’s time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations. And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

 

Those Darn Kids!

BrandiCensorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.
–Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart (1915—1985)

Brandy Kissel, a junior at Mountain View High School in Meridian, Idaho managed to demonstrate a maturity and initiative lacking in her “elders”.  Her story started when a minority of parents, fearful of the world and intent on keeping their children “innocent” of the evils of this world, complained to the Meridian School District about a book on the District’s reading list, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, by Sherman Alexie.

Alexie’s book is a masterpiece. Published in 2007, it won the National Book Award and has become very popular with young teens and English teachers for its universal themes of fitting in, making sense of race, and sexual discovery. It was the sex and supposedly anti-Christian content that led a small group of vocal parents to demand the School Board remove it from the supplemental reading list. As so frequently happens in this era of “parental choice”, the School Board meekly gave in to the parents and voted to remove the book.

At that point, it was a story of fear and failure. Adults who feared their own children. Adults with power who lacked the courage to stand up against unwarranted censorship. The National Coalition Against Censorship immediately called on the Meridian School Board to reverse its decision.

The book is widely taught in high schools across the country because of its appeal to reluctant readers. The novel addresses vital issues such as the struggles of young adulthood, the search for personal identity, bullying and poverty. It is ultimately an uplifting story of triumph by a boy with few advantages… [Removing the novel] because some object to, or disapprove of, its content violates basic constitutional principles under the First Amendment… school officials have much wider discretion to include material that has pedagogical value than to exclude it.

This is where Brandy Kissel enters the picture. She and fellow students at the school started a petition to have the book reinstated. They quickly collected 350 signatures, which is an impressive number of young people to rally around a cause like reading.  The story might have ended there, but two women read about the censorship and the response of the students and decided to start a crowdfunding campaign to buy a book for each of the 350 kids who signed the petition. The campaign raised $3,400, enough for a book per kid.  

According to one of the young women, Sara Baker,

Jen & I read about the Meridian School District’s decision to remove True Diary from the supplemental reading list despite 350 students having signed a petition to keep it. We love the book and wanted to share it with the students who were obviously disappointed with the school board’s decision. We started the book drive with the help of a teacher and a librarian in Meridian, and the expectation that we might only get 25-30 books. Needless to say, we got quite a few more than that! We partnered with Rediscovered Bookshop- an indie bookseller in Boise- to purchase the books at a good price through the publisher.

Rediscovered Books worked with Brady and the other students who started the petition to distribute the books on World Book Night, an initiative to provide reluctant young readers with free, engaging, books to read. They distributed all but 20 of the books to kids who came in to claim them, but not before parents called the cops to shut down the operation. Police told local news channel KBOI they had been called by “someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent’s permission.” The police examined the books, found nothing wrong going on, and let the book giveaway proceed as planned. KBOI asked the students for comments about Alexie’s book.

“I didn’t find it offensive at all, in fact there’s a lot more raunchy stuff that kids look up online,” said Mindy Hackler, a junior. “This is really nothing. ”

“There’s a paragraph right here where it has some sexual content,” Kissel said. “But, if you look at it, it’s a paragraph this big in a 230 page book.” That page reads ‘If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs.”

Not only did the World Book Night distribution go as planned, but when Alexie’s publisher Hachette got word of the incident, they sent Rediscovered an additional 350 copies on the house. So while the book may still be banned in the school curriculum, it was available free of cost for any kid who wanted to stop into Rediscovered Bookshop and pick one up.

In case you think fearful Idaho school boards might learn something from the Mountain View students, there is this headline from North Idaho-  CdA school committee proposes restricting Steinbeck book.

Mary Jo Finney thinks one of the novellas Coeur d’Alene high school students read is unworthy of its standing as an American classic.

“The story is neither a quality story nor a page turner,” Finney said of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Finney and three other members of a district curriculum-review committee have recommended “Of Mice and Men” be pulled from classroom instruction and made available only on a voluntary, small-group basis in ninth grade English classes. The school board will vote on the recommendation next month.

Its use of profanity – “bastard,” for instance, and “God damn” – makes the 1937 book unsuitable for freshmen, said Finney, a parent who has objected to other books from the Coeur d’Alene School District curriculum over the years.

She said she counted 102 profanities in its 110 pages, noting that “the teachers actually had the audacity to have students read these profanities out loud in class.”

In addition to the profanity, the curriculum committee found the story of two migrant ranch hands struggling during the Great Depression too “negative.”

To quote a frequently censored American author, Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes…”

 

 

 

  

Ignominious Idaho

Happy vernal equinox! Spring is here and it appears likely that the Idaho State Legislature will adjourn today.

What have those distinguished lawmakers done this term? Well, they are ending the session on one of their most ignominious pieces of legislation, the budget for k-12 school funding. According to Boise Democratic Rep. John Cannon

“We have a budget that doesn’t even come close to matching the enthusiasm our public in Idaho has for education,” Gannon said. He estimates that the budget falls about $170 million short of funding levels from 2008-09, once enrollment increases, inflation and health care costs are added in. He points out that “This budget does not even come close to addressing these issues and solving problem for our schools”

In this budget there is a salary increase of 1% for teachers, matching the raise for other state employees.  Meanwhile, the top state elected officials, including the Governor, will get a 1.5% raise each of the next four years. The original plan was for a 2.5% raise, but the public outrage caused them to trim it back to 1.5% This means the Governor will make $120,785 next year. Spending on education in Idaho ranks 49th in the nation. How do school districts manage to keep their doors open? They are forced to pass supplemental tax levies. This, of course, exacerbates the inequities in schooling. The wealthier districts pass the levies while the poorer districts don’t.

jim_rischtoon3How, you may ask, did Idaho find itself in this financial fix? As the Twin Falls Times News points out, you can blame it on the Angry Gnome:

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch still lauds his 2006 initiative — the biggest political victory during his short stint as Idaho’s governor — that robbed local schools of property taxing power, tied education funding to sales tax and centralized power in Boise. And as Idaho’s starving public schools continue their race to the bottom, we can’t understand why.

“Yes, funding goes up and down based on the economy,” Risch said Friday when asked if binding educational funding to the finicky markets was a good move. “When the people have less money, the government has less money. A lot of people seem to believe that government should be held harmless.”

He admits the system’s defect, even while defending it.

Last week, 11 Magic Valley schools went to the voters begging for money. Some wanted millions to build new facilities and fix leaky roofs. Too many others are just trying to keep the lights on.

The state Legislature in 2006 overwhelmingly endorsed the switch. It made sense to many as frustrated taxpayers clamored for relief. But within 18 months, Wall Street left the nation reeling and the fundamental flaw in Risch’s plan was exposed when people stopped buying. Since the 2008 crash, individual schools have lost millions. Numerous superintendents have told us money that would have been spent on building maintenance is now spent on preserving science classes. Withering buildings, plunging student attainment and growing class sizes are the spawn of the move to sales tax.

Risch contends that schools can still ask voters for supplemental levies, so they haven’t lost any power to make up the losses incurred over the past six years, assuming they can “convince the local people” to support them at the ballot. But too many fail, and, without the taxing power, our schools are failing, plain and simple.

2006 was eight years ago. Surely, current Republican elected officials have seen the error of their ways and decided to rectify the situation?

State Senate and House leadership immediately get defensive when asked if the 2006 switch was a mistake. Lawmakers are more concerned with saving face than righting a wrong. It’s more than a shame, it’s a slight to their duty to draft responsible policy.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said education was his top priority during January’s State of the State address.Yet, neither he nor the Legislature have taken a single meaningful step toward solving the cash issues that are plaguing Idaho, turning off would-be employers in need of an educated workforce and handicapping our children for the rest of their lives. The Legislative session has been a bust; one packed with pandering and political one-upmanship. If this is how Otter treats his “priorities,” we hate to see how less important issues are handled.

Educating the youth is a quintessential government function, one that benefits an entire population and frames history’s narrative for decades to come. They call it the Dark Ages for a reason. Education is maybe our most important infrastructure and it’s failing in Idaho.

The Death Spiral (or, why is this man smiling?)

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It didn’t occur to me until I happened to watch Idaho Governor Clement Leroy “Butch” Otter delivered a speech with the audio off. Suddenly it became crystal clear that Otter had the look and all the mannerisms of the televangelist, or one of those marketing/motivational gurus like Tony Robbins who want to convince you that success is all about having a positive attitude.

The resemblance is more than just looks.  Otter is a classic snake oil salesman trying to sell Idaho’s citizens that, thanks to his administration, the Idaho economy is in good shape.

Here are the facts:  Governor Otter has presided over the tanking of the economy in Idaho. The state is currently 50th – dead last – in wages and personal income. Idaho is tied for last with Utah in educational investment. The state does lead the nation in one area, however, minimum wage jobs. Yes, after 20 years of uninterrupted GOP rule Idaho’s families earn less than in any other state, 50th, the bottom.

The unwillingness to adequately fund education has put Idaho into what Bob Lokken, CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics, calls a “Death Spiral“.

“I would contend that puts us in a little bit of a death spiral,” said Lokken, whose company specializes in health-care software. He spoke at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon for legislators.

Idaho ranks at the bottom of the states in per-capita income and leads the nation in the percentage of its workforce earning the minimum wage.

“This is the death spiral: I am trying to grow a knowledge-era business in the state of Idaho, and I can’t find the critical knowledge workers I need,” he said.

Fortunately, there are other voices willing to counter Otter’s “bubble boy” budget with some realism that would put a check on the Death Spiral. Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy Director Michael Ferguson has released a counter, alternative budget that comes closer to adequately funding education, although it doesn’t get the state back to pre-recession figures. Ferguson, who served as the chief economist for the state of Idaho for twenty five years, until 2011, Ferguson outlined

an alternative budget to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s executive budget that would put more funding into the public school system and restore $35 million in cuts to the state’s Department of Health and Welfare budget.

According to Ferguson,

It is intended to show that Idaho does have the resources in fiscal year 2015 to provide meaningful funding increases to Idaho’s public schools, to restore significant cuts that were made to health and human services … and to provide a long overdue boost to employee compensation for thousands of hard working state and school district employees.

 
The alternative budget:
 

– Does not transfer $71 million to the state’s “rainy day” stabilization funds, as outlined in Otter’s budget. Under this scenario, more money could fund state services while Idaho would still have about $291 million in reserve funds, Ferguson said. Otter said in his State of the State address that money is needed in reserves to prepare for future economic downturns.

– Removes $30 million in unspecified tax relief as proposed in Otter’s budget.

– Gives a 4 percent increase in employee compensation. Otter’s budget marks the sixth consecutive year without proposed raise for state employees from the governor, Ferguson said. That increase would cost $21.5 million for state employees and $36.8 million for school employees.

– Restores the $34.5 million in one-time spending for public schools for teacher pay and operational costs from Fiscal Year 2014 and makes that money a permanent allocation.

– Expands Medicaid for a net savings of $42.4 million to the state’s general fund. That figure does not include an additional savings of $34.7 million to at the county level, Ferguson said.

Anyone familiar with Idaho politics understands that the likelihood of Ferguson’s budget actually begin enacted into law by the intransigent Republican dominated Idaho legislature is slim-to-none. But, hope springs eternal.

 

Dim Bulb Award for March

dim-bulb Sometimes I have to hunt around a bit to find a candidate for the Dim Bulb Award. Other times, it just falls into my lap. Such is the case with The Award for March. One simple criteria for the award is when a particular display of dimness attract national attention.

Brent Crane’s ignorance in using the example of Rosa Parks to champion states rights serves as more evidence to the rest of the country that elected Idaho politicians are a collection of rubes who have recently fallen off the turnip truck. Here, for example, is the response from Wonkette under the headline,  Hero GOP Idaho Legislator Will Sit At Front Of Bus For States Rights and Freedom From Healthcare

Oh, state legislature debates in Idaho must be veritable Lincoln-Douglas dialogues, right? They’re likely all super-erudite and engage in thoughtful research before….fuck, we can’t even keep up this pretense for the rest of this sentence. We are totally gonna generalize and say that on the basis of this one GOP guy in Idaho, their GOP is mindnumbingly dumb. How dumb, you ask breathlessly? Dumb enough to use Rosa Parks as an example of why states rights matter.

The No. 3 Republican leader in the Idaho House says he made a “slight mistake” when he described Rosa Parks as a champion of states’ rights.

“One little lady got tired of the federal government telling her what to do,” Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa said during Wednesday’s debate on Gov. Butch Otter’s bill establishing a state-run health insurance exchange. “I’ve reached that point, Mr. Speaker, that I’m tired of giving in to the federal government.”

What is this we don’t even…Did the number 3 Republican Leader in the Idaho House, a position that no doubt brings with it an unlimited amount of hookers, blow, potatoes, and militias, ever actually, you know, pay attention in school? Did he absorb even the tinest idea about how the civil rights movement worked and that it was actually a challenge to the horror of states’ rights and created a federal superstructure that actually trumped the racist fuckwit ideas of individual states? Nope!

Crane told me he received no feedback about his error until I inquired Thursday. “I had people say, ‘You did a great job in your debate.’ People understood the point I was trying to make. And I’m sorry if it was an oversight. Obviously, I didn’t do my research.”

Did Crane know the historical context before he Googled “Rosa Parks” on the House floor in preparation for his debate?

“I’m sure we went over that in history class in high school and possibly in history in college, possibly,” said Crane, who graduated from Nampa Christian High School and has a bachelor’s in political science from BSU.

Possible in history in college, possibly. Well-spoken AND on top of his facts. We could go on AND ON AND ON about how dumb this is, but seriously? It isn’t like you Wonklanders need an explanation of 8th grade civics to know this is jaw-droppingly dumb. You Wonklanders may, however, appreciate some friendly advice that perhaps political science at BSU should not be your major if you actually would like to learn some political science.

Hats off to you, though, Mr./Ms. Idaho Statesman reporter who has to cover this jerkwad. We’d advise you, in the future, to make good use of the Molly Ivins quote about a Texas legislator in reference this human pile of derp: “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

This was not the first time Crane let loose a jaw-dropping quote making him the object of national derision. In 2011, while debating a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks,

The Idaho bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told legislators that the “hand of the Almighty” was at work. “His ways are higher than our ways,” Crane said. “He has the ability to take difficult, tragic, horrific circumstances and then turn them into wonderful examples.”

Focus for a moment on where Crane received his education in civil rights and American history, Nampa Christian High School. Then consider a bill just passed by the Idaho legislature today.

The House is now debating HB 286, the bill to give $10 million in tax credits for donations to scholarships to send Idaho kids to private schools, with the idea that the state would save millions if kids dropped out of public schools to enroll in private schools instead. Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, told the House that his children attend private schools. “This levels the playing field and it’s a great step in the right direction,” he said.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, countered, “I think the issue is not whether private schools are good for children in this state, because they are. I think the issue is this is policy that siphons money away from public and charter schools to be used for private schools. … We don’t give tax credits to adults who have no children, nor should we be giving tuition tax credits to those who have chosen an alternative to public education. It is their right and their choice, but the state should not subsidize that choice. We do not have enough money for public schools and public charter schools right now.”

Any question as to how Crane voted on the bill?  I didn’t think so.

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The Crane/Rosa Parks story gets a bit funnier (in a sad, pathetic way). In the Idaho Statesman article initially pointing out Crane’s flub, Dan Popkey included the photo below.

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Who is that somewhat blurry figure in back of Crane, you may ask? Yes, it is Congressman Raul Labrador. According to Popkey, Raul was less than pleased to be connected in any way with Crane.

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador’s spokesman asked that a photo including Labrador alongside Idaho House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, be replaced on the Statesman’s website.

Crane, a top prospect for Labrador’s congressional seat should Labrador decided to run for governor against Otter in the 2014 Republican primary, is among Labrador’s closest friends. The photo was taken when Labrador was in the Idaho House in 2010. Also pictured is then-Rep. and now state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, Labrador’s spokesman in Washington, D.C., Michael Tate, sent me the following brief email:  “I noticed an article from you today featured a photo of Congressman Labrador in a story not about him. Politely wondering if you are able to use a photo in the story without my boss?”

Standardized Test Boycott

education over everything

I think this might be unprecedented. The whole staff of a high school refuses to administer a state required standardized test. The teachers at Garfield High in Seattle, Washington have voted to support a boycott of the required “MAPS” test. Soon after, the teachers at Ballard High school agreed to join the boycott.

Opponents of the nation’s relentless push for standardized testing in public schools have new champions in Seattle this week as teachers at one high school and now another have refused to issue such exams to their students, calling them a waste of “time and money” amid “dwindling school resources.”

The entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School (with only three abstentions) voted to support a boycott against administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) this week or ever again. Garfield is the largest of thirteen high schools in the Seattle Public School (SPS) system.

In a press release, Kris McBride, Garfield’s academic dean and testing coordinator, said the test “produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources” during the weeks the test is administered.

On Friday, teachers at Ballard High School said they would join the boycott as well. National support for the teachers was also growing online, as a petition circulated and a facebook page for the teachers materialized.

Following some fear that the Garfield teachers could face disciplinary action, well-known education policy expert Diane Ravitch was among those using social media to garner additional support for their cause on Saturday

If you would like to support these teachers, you can sign the petition here.

Rheeform Fail Part II

rhee

As described in the Frontline documentary, Michelle Rhee was forced to leave as Washington D.C. School Chancellor, after doing her best to privatize schools, attack teachers with punitive “assessment” and destroy collective bargaining. Because of her destructive policies, she became the darling of those right wing advocates of “school Reform”. Her lobbying group, “StudentsFirst” was a rousing financial success and she funneled that money into state level campaigns nationwide. According to Daniel Denvir of Slate, reporting right after the election:

Nov. 6 was a good day for Michelle Rhee. The former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, through her organization StudentsFirst, poured money into state-level campaigns nationwide, winning 86 of 105 races and flipping a net 33 seats to advocates of so-called school reform, a movement that advocates expanding privately run public charter schools, weakening teachers’ unions, increasing the weight of high-stakes standardized tests and, in some cases, using taxpayer dollars to fund private tuition through vouchers as the keys to improving public education.

Rhee makes a point of applauding “leaders in both parties and across the ideological spectrum” because her own political success — and the success of school reform — depends upon the bipartisan reputation she has fashioned. But 90 of the 105 candidates backed by StudentsFirst were Republicans, including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents. And Rhee’s above-the-fray bona fides have come under heavy fire as progressives and teachers unions increasingly cast the school reform movement, which has become virtually synonymous with Rhee’s name, as politically conservative and corporate-funded.

StudentsFirst didn’t have to spend much money in Idaho because the “Luna Laws”, Students Come First, were (as the similar title indicates) directly out of Rhee’s preferred policy manual, and funded by outside corporate dollars. The Idaho legislature passed the Luna Laws, but the Idaho voters rejected them in what Diane Ravitch described as a “stunning defeat”.

Voters in Idaho gave Mitt Romney a landslide  but simultaneously voted overwhelmingly to repeal the “Luna Laws,” the brainchild of state superintendent Tom Luna.

This stunning victory for public education demonstrates that not even red-state Republicans are prepared to privatize public education and dismantle the teaching profession.

The Luna Laws imposed a mandate for online courses for high school graduates (a favorite of candidates funded by technology companies), made test scores the measure of teacher quality, provided bonuses for teachers whose students got higher scores, removed all teacher rights, eliminated anything resembling tenure or seniority, turned teachers into at-will employees, and squashed the teachers’ unions.

The campaign to support the Luna laws was heavily funded by technology entrepreneurs and out-of-state supporters of high-stakes testing and restrictions on the teaching profession, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The voters in this reddest of red states overturned all three of the Luna laws (which he called “Students Come First”; anything in which children or students or kids come “first” is a clear tip-off to the divisive intent of the program).

The Republican dominated Legislature and the Idaho School Boards Association, however,  are determined to ignore the voice of the people and implement as much of the Luna Laws as they can get away with. According to the Spokesman Review:

Idaho voters rejected a rollback in teachers’ collective bargaining rights in the November election, but the state’s school boards association is gearing up to try to put some of the same provisions right back into Idaho’s laws.

“We really tried to focus on the things that the trustees felt were most important to them, and to leave the rest of it alone,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. “We hoped that the union would support at least parts of this – we know they won’t be able to support all of it.”

Among the provisions the school boards group wants to revive: A June 10 deadline by which, if districts haven’t reached agreements with their local teachers unions, they can just impose contract terms unilaterally. At least 16 Idaho school districts did that this year.

“It’s Proposition 1 right back up there again,” said Maria Greeley, a Boise school trustee who opposed the resolution at last month’s state school boards association conference. “I’m not saying that everything in it is bad. … The one piece that concerns me the most is that deadline, because it gives districts the opportunity to abuse the negotiation process. It doesn’t make them come in and do the tough work of working through it.”

As for Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst (more accurately- CorperationsFirst), the latest publicity stunt is the state-by-state “Report Card” released this week. Doug Henwood calls the Report Card for what it is- self-promoting crap:

StudentsFirst, the school “reform” outfit led by the notorious Michelle Rhee, is out with a state-by-state Report Card on the nation’s schools. Grades were awarded on the basis of states’ conformity to the standard reform agenda—ease of creating charter schools, ease of firing teachers, ease of hiring teachers who aren’t certified in the traditional fashion, and testing testing testing. In the past, there’s never been any evidence that this agenda actually improves educational outcomes—and this report is no exception. Despite Rhee’s love of testing, there’s no mention of how states that do well under her criteria do on standardized tests compared to those that score poorly. That’s no surprise, really, since states that get high grades from StudentsFirst do worse on tests than those that score poorly.

Note the irony here. Rhee’s mantra is teacher/school accountability based upon student test  scores, but she doesn’t even consider standardized test scores in rating the states. When Henwood compares state student test scores with the Rhee’s “grades”, there is a strong negative correlation. The higher the student test scores, the lower the grade.

Rhee’s group gave letter grades to each state, along with a GPA that allowed them to be ranked from 1 to 51. (DC counts as a state here.) No state got a grade higher than a B-, and only two states made that grade. Eleven states got an F. Tough! But do these grades mean anything?

To evaluate the StudentsFirst grades, I got 8th grade reading and math scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, aka NAEP, the Nation’s Report Card. Testing can be a debased pursuit when it’s used to measure individual schools and teachers (sample sizes are just too small, and there’s too much statistical noise from year to year to base anything on), but the NAEP is as good as they come for measuring broad trends.

Here are the results. StudentsFirst has Louisiana at #1 in its rankings—but the state ranks 49th in reading and 47th in math. North Dakota, which StudentsFirst ranks 51st, comes in at #14 in reading scores and #7 in math. Massachusetts, which ranks #1 in both reading and math scores (and which is also the most unionized state for teachers in the country), comes in at #14 on the Rhee scale.

Looking more rigorously at the results, the correlation coefficient on the rankings in the StudentsFirst report card with state rankings on reading scores is -0.20. (The correlation coefficient is a measure of the similarity of two sets of numbers, ranging from -1.0, completely dissimilar, to +1.0, perfect similarity.) That’s not a large number, but the negative sign means that the correlation is in the wrong direction: the higher the StudentsFirst score, the lower the NAEP reading score. The correlation on math is even worse, -0.25.

If you group the states by their StudentsFirst grades and look at the average test scores and rankings, you can understand why Rhee & Co. didn’t bother to get into outcomes. The two states that got B-’s did almost 8 points worse on math than those that got F’s, and over 9 points worse on reading. The B- states were toward the bottom of the rankings, and the F were above the middle. (And yes, 22-45 is -23, not -22, as the table suggests; the difference is a result of rounding.)

StudentsFirst grades and NAEP 2011 test results, 8th grade
Rhee              NAEP scores           NAEP ranks
grades          reading    math       reading    math
B-             258.4     275.3        42        45
C+             257.3     276.1        37        34
C-             263.8     282.0        29        31
D+             268.3     286.8        18        21
D              263.5     283.3        30        26
D-             266.2     285.0        23        24
F              266.2     284.8        22        22

F less B-        7.8       9.5       -20       -22

Rheeform Fail

Rhee

The PBS documentary series Frontline is airing “The Education of Michelle Rhee” this week. The documentary provides a good background for those who are not aware of Rhee and her tenure as Washington D.C. Public School Chancellor. Most sources that have commented on the documentary focused on the “cheating scandal”  in reporting test scores in the District. For example, in the Washington Post:

Student standardized-test scores at an award-winning D.C. school dropped dramatically in 2011 after the principal tightened security out of concern about possible cheating, according to a new “Frontline” television documentary to be broadcast Tuesday.

The hour-long program raises questions about whether District officials have adequately investigated persistent suspicions that public school employees may have tampered with tests during the tenure of former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Adell Cothorne was principal of the District’s Noyes Education Campus for one year, in 2010-11. She told “Frontline” that just after students took a midyear practice version of the city’s annual standardized test, she stumbled upon three staff members sitting late at night in a room strewn with more than 200 test booklets.

One of the adults was at a desk, holding an eraser. The other two sat at a table, booklets open before them.

“One staff member said to me, in a lighthearted sort of way, ‘Oh, principal, I can’t believe this kid drew a spider on the test and I have to erase it,’ ” Cothorne told filmmakers, offering the first such direct testimony about potential tampering with answer sheets in D.C. schools.

Cothorne told “Frontline” that she reported the incident to the central office, but to her knowledge nothing was done. School system officials said Friday that without having seen the documentary, they could not comment on Cothorne’s allegations.

“Broadly speaking, reports about testing impropriety are taken very seriously,” D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz wrote in an e-mail. “We have investigated and taken appropriate action for every instance reported to us.”

Rhee claims that the Inspector General’s report clear her of accusations. Nevertheless, the Post claims the IG’s report was flawed.

The District’s test scores did rise during Rhee’s tenure, including a particularly dramatic jump after her first year in office.

Rhee left office in 2010 after then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had hired her, lost his bid for reelection. She then launched Students First, a national lobbying organization to spread the reforms she championed in Washington.

But in 2011, USA Today published an investigation that raised questions about the validity of the District’s test scores — and, by proxy, about the effectiveness of Rhee’s reforms.

The newspaper’s report revealed an unusually high number of wrong-to-right erasures on students’ answer sheets at more than 100 D.C. schools between 2008 and 2010. Such erasure rates aren’t proof of cheating, but they are signals of potential tampering.

Current Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson asked D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby to investigate further. Willoughby reported in August that he’d found no evidence of answer-sheet tampering, a conclusion that Henderson said should finally put cheating allegations to rest.

The “Frontline” documentary, however, suggests the inspector general’s investigation may have been incomplete.

The 17-month probe focused on just one school: Noyes, which was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2009 after students made impressive gains on reading and math tests. It also twice won an award from Rhee that brought cash bonuses for staff, and it had some of the highest erasure rates in the city. Investigators found some test-security problems at Noyes but no evidence of answer-sheeting tampering. Based on those findings, they decided not to examine other schools. But Cothorne, the former principal who alleges that she saw staff members after hours with erasers and test booklets, said investigators never interviewed her.

I am not sure we will ever know the truth about the “cheating scandal” or Rhee’s role in it. Did Rhee do damage to the DC educational system? I think it is clear that she did. Unfortunately, the damage Rhee is currently engaged in goes far beyond Washington D.C. schools. The lobbying group Rhee currently heads, “Students First”, is intent upon spreading the “reform model” she used in D.C. throughout the nation.

Tomorrow I will talk about the impact of Students First on Idaho and the bogus “Report Card” the organization recently released claiming to grade the States on educational reform.

Otter Faces Facts

butch_otter2

Idaho Governor Clement “Butch” Otter appears to have faced the fact of educational reform. The voters spoke and the Luna Laws lost. He hasn’t given up on educational reform, but he appears willing to go slower and try to include all interested parties in the discussion. He has asked the Idaho State Department of Education to form a group to determine if there is legislation that would have broad based support. If so, it would not be until 2014 that the legislature might consider such legislation.

Here is part of Otter’s statement.

After voters on November 6 rejected the process, pace and policies for improving Idaho’s education system enacted in 2011, it became the task of everyone who cares about the quality of Idaho public schools to constructively continue that conversation.
My staff and I spent the next several weeks reaching out to educators, business leaders and Idaho citizens about staying engaged. Now that I’m optimistic we have a critical mass of interest, I’ve asked the State Board of Education to shepherd a statewide discussion about school improvement.
I’m asking the Board to guide the work of a broadly representative group of concerned Idahoans in studying best practices in school districts around the state and using data and experience to drive sound decision making.  The group is likely to be large, but only large enough to include the diversity of opinion needed to properly study such a complex issue.
I’m not going to direct the discussion or the issues covered in any way. There must be no “third rail” in this conversation. But I am asking participants to come to the table ready to speak openly and candidly, and to bring ideas.  I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators.

Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session.  It is imperative that our partners in the Legislature engage in this process and I am pleased to have the support of House Speaker Bedke and the Senate President Pro Tem Hill in balancing this fragile dynamic.

IsTesting Killing Public Education?

Why Testing is Killing Education

It is now taken for granted by political policy makers that schools, administrators, and teachers must be held accountable. For most who consider educational reform that is a non debatable given. Of course, those who favor educational reform beg an interesting question- Do American schools need reforming?

The taken-for-granted answer to that question is, Yes, because our test scores are lower than those of other countries. Notice the circular reasoning. Do our schools need reforming? Yes. How do we know? Because our students score lower on standardized tests than students of many other countries. How shall we reform our schools? By demanding more accountability on the part of teachers and administrators. How will be hold them accountable? By doing more of what we are already doing, testing.

This whole game has been going on for close to thirty years (see the Nation at Risk Report ),  but no one seems concerned about the irrationality involved.

The “Measurements” of Accountability

Although policymakers give lip service to the idea that there should be multiple measures to determine accountability, the fact is student achievement, as determined by standardized test results, is all that really counts. In most cases, these standardized tests consist of multiple-choice questions assessing discrete facts. There is really no way to test for critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, writing or reading skills beyond the most rudimentary. But, as an old saying goes, “what counts is what can be counted.”

The Irony of Accountability

Thus, the one thing that is measured by standardized tests is one thing that contemporary education ought to be least concerned about. Just think about it for a moment. When you want to know a specific fact, what do you do? If you are like me, you “Google”it.
In the modern technological age, there is simply no point in memorizing the factual information that is readily available to anyone who has access to the Internet. The really problem in this age of “information glut” is what to do with the vast amount of facts we have at hand. A computer has already shown that it can beat any human “expert” at the quiz show, Jeopardy. That same computer could easily “ace” the student achievement tests that we use to measure whether or not our students are “educated”.
This point leads us to the real question- What does it mean to be “educated”, and what should schools be about?

What Then, Should Schooling Be About?

If the purpose of schooling is not to transmit a body of factual knowledge to a passive group of young people who are then required to memorize the knowledge and regurgitated on a standardized test, what might the purpose of schooling be? As John Dewey told us over a century ago, schools ought to be two things: 1) having “educative” experiences, and 2) learning how to participate in a democratic community. We have forgotten what both of those terms mean. We confuse learning facts with being educated and we confuse knowing facts about democracy and voting with participating in a democracy.

Educative Experiences

What are Educative Experiences?

  • The opportunity for educative experience arises from an authentic problem or question.
  • The problem or question must be one that a student is interested in and finds engaging.
  • The problem should emerge from the student’s prior knowledge and experience.

The teacher’s job is twofold: provide the student with the background and information necessary to solve the problem; and provide the student with the critical thinking skills necessary to solve the problem.

Schools as Participatory Democracies

This is the most radical of Dewey’s ideas about education. Dewey believed that a critical role for American education was to provide a public space where young people could understand democracy by practicing it. For Dewey, a participatory democracy is one where those who are impacted by a decision have a role in making that decision. Not only are such experiences rare in today’s schools, there is no interest in assessing whether they take place or not.

Follow the Money

If you ask the question, “Whose interests are being served?” by the testing reform agenda’s the answer in obvious. It is not the students, their parents, or teachers and administrators interested in educating our children. Business interests are being served. Business and industry are not concerned with schools emphasizing citizenship education. They want a compliant work force, not one interested in participating in decision-making. Politicians advocating educational “reform” know who they are accountable to and who pays for their campaigns. This is true nationally as well as here in Idaho.