Monthly Archives: June 2015

Sen. Crapo needs to hear more opposition regarding NCLB reauthorization before next week

Crapo at a town hall meeting in Parma, Idaho

Crapo at a town hall meeting in Parma, Idaho

It’s a safe bet to say Sen. Crapo and I didn’t see eye to eye on most things discussed during the Town Hall meeting in Parma today.  However, we did share ample common ground regarding what we consider to be federal overreach of State’s education policies, particularly regarding the federal mandate to assess students annually.

Senator Crapo proposed some terrific legislation back in January this year that would have made a tremendous difference for Idaho’s students titled the Local Leadership Education Act with it’s stated purpose as:

To prohibit the Federal Government from mandating, incentivizing, or coercing States to adopt the Common Core State Standards or any other specific academic standards, instructional content, curricula, assessments, or programs of instruction.

Unfortunately, the upcoming vote on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) now known as the Every Child Achieves Act largely leaves in place almost all the elements his own legislation in January was designed to combat, namely the onerous provision of administering an annual standardized test to the bulk of Idaho’s students; a requirement that takes away from instruction, closes computer labs, causes tears for students and teachers alike, and allows private companies like Pearson to pocket billions at the expense of schools and students.

And while I certainly cannot disagree with Sen. Crapo when he stated that the new legislation is much less bitter than NCLB, that is besides the point.  We aren’t trying to give our students and children a less bitter education policy; rather, we are trying to give them excellent education policy that actually improves their outcomes.

Sen. Crapo indicated that he was still considering how he feels; however, there will be a vote cast next week on the Senate floor.  He needs to hear from you either in person or phonon why this renewal vote on NCLB is bad news for schools and teachers before he is asked to cast his vote next week!

Click on my previous blog entry to see dates and locations Sen. Crapo will be in Idaho during this week as well as contact information and talking points when addressing the topic with the Senator.

Please take an hour of your time to attend one of his town halls in person to advocate for Idaho’s students on why an NCLB renewal without significant changes is bad news for Idaho’s kiddos and America’s children.

See Sen. Crapo in person this week to remind him why local control matters

Sen. Mike Crapo

Sen. Mike Crapo

Sen. Mike Crap will be holding Town Hall style meetings across Idaho this week.  That makes this week an excellent opportunity to let Sen. Crapo know that Idahoans continue to be opposed to the outrageous monstrosity that the Standardized testing mandate has caused under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as well as an opportunity to stop this testing insanity by encouraging him to vote no on the upcoming NCLB renewal known as the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177).

See, as currently written, the Every Child Achieves Act keeps in place the single largest flaw of NCLB: Using a single annual standardized test score in determining which states are “succeeding” and which are “failing.”

US Secreatary of Education Arne Duncan

US Secreatary of Education Arne Duncan

Such policy has a multitude of negative implications witnessed through NCLB’s abject failure including the current policy of a connecting state compliance of annual testing to the federal money spigot administered by the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

This relationship results in a significant ability for DC to control schools through the use of awarding funds only if schools are in compliance with certain benchmarks, of which the sacred cow of annual standardized testing is the cornerstone.  Through this financial mechanism, Idaho and its districts are essentially tied to follow federal directives including the implementation of Common Core State Standards and implement the annual testing mechanism to assess these standards through the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

While assessment, in itself, can certainly have positive implications, in this case the consequences of these tests have been disastrous.  No Child Left Behind requires that all students demonstrate 100% proficiency in reading and math; an outcome (while well intended) was doomed to fail from the start.

The consequence of not having 100% proficiency means that screen-shot-2012-11-14-at-5-53-25-pmstates must submit to a waiver–a waiver whose conditions are set by the Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan)– not the US legislature.  The current conditions of that waiver requires states to submit to a federal set of standards, submit to an annual examination assessing student proficiency of those standards, as well as other conditions.

This results in Idaho, and its independent districts, giving up local control; control never meant to be in the hands of the federal government, let alone a single appointed Secretary under the Executive.

downloadFor Pearson and other standardized test makers such a policy has been a windfall: As long as states have to test annually, and as long as it is a forgone conclusion that the benchmark will never be met, corporate profit shares will only continue to increase in valuation.

According to Forbes, annual testing in k-12 has become a 2.5 billion dollar industry, of pea2-02-01-151which Pearson is the foremost leader according to the most recent data available.    Keep in mind that Pearson in particular has a stellar track record in Idaho for designing both the State’s longitudinal data management system (ISEE) and Instructional Data management system  (SchoolNet) at a combined 73 million dollars which were so fraught with dysfunction that literal boatloads of money and years of mismanagement later, Pearson left Idaho with a pipsqueak announcement that it had done all for the systems that it could (translation: we screwed up) and that they would no longer be working on the system (translation: we’re taking your money and getting out of this state).

Yet, for schools, the consequences of using the standardized test scores as the single indicator have been disastrous.  This is particularly for schools working with minority and at risk populations such as low income, English language learners, migrant families, and special education students.  These students have a variety of factors completely outside the control of the school and teachers that make them especially prone to not necessarily having stellar test scores, but a failing test score carries the same result, regardless of the population of students.

Instead of creating mechanisms to encourage more resources–including excellent teachers–to work with these populations, the consequence of the annual test scores means less resources (remember Annual Yearly Progress [AYP] Jail?) for the students who need the most support, and a flock of temp-teacher TFA (Teach for America) employees to teach to the test and “improve” school scores.

Unfortunately, the re-authorization of NCLB through the Every Child Achieves Act leaves the lunacy of heavy handed standardized test score consequences in place.  Let’s make sure our federal representative, Sen. Mike Crapo, knows that this is a raw deal for not only Idahoans, but all of America’s students.

Keep in mind that Sen. Crapo has already showed some cards in his hand in opposing the status quo that essentially coerces Idaho into adopting CCSS through tying the adoption of such standards to the US Dept. of Ed’s Race to the Top money spigot.  Back in January, Crapo and federal sentators introduced legislation that would prohibit such practices.

That is excellent news because it reveals that Sen. Crapo understands the value of state and local control when it comes the education of students in Idaho.  Let’s make sure he knows he has our support in voting no on the Every Child Achieves Act (S 1177) until the annual testing provision is eliminated.

As I wrote back in January when Crapo announced the bill to end coercing states into adopting CCSS and annual testing:

Since No Child left Behind was enacted, we have witnessed the results of utilizing standardized tests as both carrot and stick.

A carrot through Secretary Duncan’s emphasizes of giving dollars to schools willing to embrace common core and high stakes testing. The result has been a disaster.  Using New York State as an example, that approach has resulted in only 30% of students being labeled as “proficient” (Idaho has not released any public data on score outcomes; this will be the first year it will be released after students test in spring).

Vice versa, the big stick approach of holding schools responsible for standardized test scores through withholding dollars and placing schools in Annual Yearly Progress (AYP Jail) has been equally flawed. Schools serving the hardest students, schools with a high percentage of special education, English-language learners, low socio-economic, and “at risk” students were the hardest hit by such a strategy.

In an outcome that surprised precisely zero individuals, those schools working with the hardest students had the lowest scores; an outcome that resulted in the feds withholding money from precisely the schools that desperately needed the most resources to help their students succeed.

6 Months later, now in June, that is still true more than ever.  Below is Sen. Crapo’s traveling town hall schedule.  Please attend and let him know that until the annual testing mechanism is removed, the Every Child Achieves Act is doomed to have the same failed outcome of No Child Left Behind.

Victoria Young, an incredible Idaho education advocate and author of The Crucial Voice, has some excellent talking points to ask Sen. Crapo and/or share with him during the meetings available on her website.

Please take the time to let Sen. Crapo know, in person, that we can do better for Idaho’s and all of America’s children by saying no to the annual standardized testing mechanism and start putting children over profits.

Monday, June 29: 

4:00 PM       Parma    Parma Senior Center, 410 North 8th Street

6:00 PM       Notus    Notus City Hall, 375 Notus Road

7:30 PM       Greenleaf   Greenleaf City Hall, 20523 N. Whittier Drive

Tuesday. June 30:

11:00 AM    Boise     Boise Public Library! Marion Bingham Room, Third Floor, 715 S. Capitol Boulevard

1:30 PM      Mountain Home       Mountain Home City Hall, 160 South Third East

Wednesday, July 1:

9:30 AM      Ketchum    Ketchum City Hall, 480 East Avenue North

11:30 AM     Hailey   Blaine County School District, Community Campus, Minnie Moore Room, 1050 Fox Acres Road

2:00 PM      Shoshone   Lincoln County Community Center,  Jerry Nance Hall, 201 S. Beverly

Thursday, July 2:

9:00 AM      Jerome                 Presents Spirit of Idaho Award to local veteran Lee Nunnally for his volunteer work to repair a  memorial to those who served in Operation Desert Storm.  At Jerome’s South Park,  300 E. Main

10:00 AM     Hansen    T & T Café, 195 Rock Creek Road

11:30 AM     Murtaugh   Murtaugh City Park / Wally’s Park Pavilion

2:00 PM       Burley    Burley Public Library, 1300 Miller Avenue

3:30 PM       Heyburn   Heyburn City Offices, 941 18th Street

Friday, July 3:

9:30 AM      Ucon   Ucon City Council Chambers, 3787 E. 112 North, Idaho Falls

11:30 AM     Ashton    Ashton Community Center, 925 Main Street

2:00 PM       Island Park   Island Park EMS Building, 4329 Library Road

4:30 PM       Rigby  Rigby Senior Citizens Center, 391 Community Lane

An open letter to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission and the Idaho Legislature

original-logos-2015-Jun-9244-6115560The following letter was sent out to all members of Idaho’s Lesgiature and members of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission.

The letter asks for tangible action from either the IPCSC or the Idaho legislature to ensure minority services are provided in Idaho’s charters in order to make charter schools a choice for minority families as well.

The actual PDF file version can be viewed here.

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Boise Weekly features Cavener regarding charter demographic data

citizen_levicavenerI don’t know about the caricature, but the interview is pretty darn good.  It’s worth checking out.

A snippet from the Boise Weekly article:

Teaching is a passion. Teaching students with disabilities is doubly so. Levi Cavener, an instructor at Vallivue High School in Caldwell, has been a special education instructor for five years. As an undergraduate at the University of Idaho, he spent time abroad through the Camp Adventure program, exploring Europe with children whose parents were serving in the military. One child lost a parent during Cavener’s time in the program and he described others as “genuinely alone,” not hearing from parents for weeks on end. Those experiences helped ignite his passion for education.



Fixing Charter Schools Requires Sacrifice

ComThe Editorial Board of the Idaho Press Tribune made an excellent decision a week ago in drawing attention to the chronic disparity regarding minority student enrollment in Idaho’s charter schools in comparison to their local school districts, and information regarding the Civil Rights Complaint issued by Idaho’s Centro de Communidad Y Justicia (Center for Community and Justice).

However, that particular editorial left the impression that the cause of the disparity was minority parents and students simply not being properly informed that charter schools, as public schools, are a choice for their families as well.

And while dissemination of information to these communities is certainly a required element in solving this problem, it is only one very small fraction of a comprehensive solution; this imbalance requires charters to actually be a “choice” for minority populations, and that requires charter schools to offer genuine minority services that would embrace true inclusion.

That means that charter schools have to offer bus transportation services to make charter schools a “choice” for families juggling multiple jobs that create barriers for them transporting their own children, particularly single parent families.  When charter schools such as Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, the second largest brick and mortar charter in Idaho, fail to offer transportation services to their students, it inherently stops becoming a “choice” for those families.

It means that charter schools must provide free and reduced lunch services to their students, particularly for families relying on these meals for their child’s nutrition.  When charter schools like the Academy Public Charter in Pocatello fail to offer free and reduced lunch services to their students, it inherently stops becoming a “choice” for those low-income families.

It requires that charter schools offer true research-based interventions and services for students with disabilities; a special education student has just as much right to a resource teacher, school psychologist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and transition counselors in charter schools as in public schools; a disability, no matter the severity, should never turn a student away from attending a charter.

It demands that charter schools provide materials and services in languages reflective of their community; this means an effort should be made to locate large non-English speaking populations, and make sure that materials are equitably provided to those populations in those languages.  While Spanish-speaking populations certainly constitute a sizable demographic, it is also important to remember that Idaho is also home to sizable refugee populations in Boise and Twin Falls that must also be provided an equitable “choice” in student enrollment.

It stipulates that the preference system utilized during “lottery” drawings for student applications be addressed.  Between preferences allowed for founder’s children, employee’s children, siblings of children already enrolled, and this year’s new law that gives preference to any child enrolled in any charter in the state ahead of a student that was not enrolled in a charter, few true open “lottery” slots are open for new student enrollment.

If the existing charter is overwhelmingly white, affluent, and English speaking–and the data overwhelmingly indicates charters in Idaho are–then the preferences result in a demographic that simply replicates itself from year to year making it difficult for charters to become more reflective of their surrounding communities.

If we want charter schools to offer opportunity for our students to perform interactions with peers of different ethnicities, languages, incomes, and disabilities as the law mandates, it requires us to make some changes to the existing system.  If we want our students to live in largely homogeneous mono-cultures of students exactly like themselves, then leave the system as it is.

It’s time for us to make a positive choice for Idaho’s students.