Category Archives: charter

When an Idaho Charter School Doubles as Church

Thomas Jefferson Charter School is located in Caldwell, Idaho with a mission statement of creating “virtuous citizen leaders.”   However, Thomas Jefferson is also home to the congregation of Wellsprings Church.

Idaho’s charter schools are public schools bound to the same laws, codes, and regulations of any other school and government entity.  The entanglement between a public school’s facility hosting a religious event is worth an examination. Continue reading

Coming soon to a school near you Idaho: Charter school cronyism

Screenshot 2016-05-08 at 7.41.23 PM  In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State’s education world including the multi-million broadband fiasco, citizens have a right to be leery about cozy relationships between government entities and their business partners.

Take, for example, the recent charter school petition Caldwell School District received from Pathways in Education (PIE). From a public records request, that petition stated that PIE would pay California-based Pathways Management Group (PMG), operated by charter entrepreneur Mr. John Hall, to the tune of $127 per student per month for “charter management.”

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With desired enrollment of 300 students and a flexible year-round schedule, that creates a significant contract of $450k for PMG per year. It is unclear what services would be provided for this fee  as many of the services listed such as paying utility bills and purchasing electronics appear to be redundant activities the Caldwell district office already performs. Continue reading

Part 2: Red flags abound in Caldwell’s newest proposed charter school

This is part 2 of a multipart series. I encourage all readers to also view part 1 here.


Unfortunately, the red flags continue to stack upon the previous five detailed yesterday for Pathways in Education’s (PIE’s) charter application.

Red flag six: The student-teacher ratio is astronomically high for an alternative school.

The budget allocates for only 6 FTE classroom teachers. At an anticipated enrollment of 300 students, that results in a bloated student-teacher ratio of 50 to 1. Fifty to one.

This ratio would be considered much too high for a public school in general; however, for an alternative school in particular in which the focus is on small class sizes and additional interaction time for each individual student, this ratio is obtusely top heavy.

See page 207 for more information.

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Red flags abound in Caldwell’s newest proposed charter school: Welcome to the era of Charter Management Companies in Idaho

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Caldwell School District has received a fresh application for a proposed charter school.  This particular proposal for the charter entity Pathways in Education is interesting in the sense that not only will it will be the first time that Caldwell will consider a possible alternative high school under a charter, but it will also be the first time that Caldwell will consider paying an outside “consulting” company in order to manage the charter.

Pathways in Education (PIE) is the latest of a series of charter schools promoted and managed by married former Hollywood teachers John and Joan Hall (their daughter, Jamie, and son, John Jr, are also both intricately involved in the family enterprise).

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Highlights From Today’s Idaho Charter School Minority Student Civil Rights Summit

Bluum hosted a Civil Rights Summit in Boise today in which they brought in two guest civil rights attourneys from Washington DC, Lauren Baum and Renita Thukral, to provide information regarding civil rights law and procedures for Idaho public schools; specifically, Idaho’s charter schools compliance with minority student enrollment and compliance with civil rights law.

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The forum was attended by a variety of charter stakeholders including charter school principals, board members, and teachers.  The speakers presented information civil rights eduction law information specific to Communidad Y Justicia’s Office for Civil Rights complaint which alleges charter schools in Idaho engage in discriminatory practices against minority students in including ethnicity, Limited English Proficiency (LEP), Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL), and Special Education students. Continue reading

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.



Weekend wrap-up: Charters in Idaho, OpEds, and Brown v Board of Ed Anniversary

Mrs. Nettie Hunt, sitting on steps of Supreme Court, holding newspaper, explaining to her daughter Nikie the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision banning school segregation.  Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-127042

On the supreme court steps, a mother explaining to her daughter the impact of the Brown v Board of Ed Decision.  Via Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Today marks the 61st anniversary of Brown v Board of Education; while many point to this decision as ending black segregation in southern schools (which certainly is true), the implications of this US Supreme Court decision were much far more reaching.

The high court’s decision impacted minority students in general;  the ruling has been used in order to integrate students not just with different skin colors, but those students who speak different languages, practice different religions (or no religion at all), or who have disabilities.

Unfortunately, a few weeks ago Idaho’s State Charter Commission released its first ever annual report regarding student enrollment demographic data at Idaho’s charter schools.  The depressing data indicated that minority students (of all kinds) were largely left out of Idaho’s charter schools.

With few exceptions, the Commission’s findings indicated that charters in Idaho were not reflective on the communities’ demographics; instead, minority students were largely absent in public charter schools, even in areas of high minority populations (e.g. areas of high Latino and Spanish-speaking student enrollment).

This report barely made a dent in the news cycle; as far as I can gather only IdahoEdNews and a short blurb from Betsy Russell via her online blog mentioned the findings.

I had already been blogging and writing about the disparity in minority enrollment at Idaho charter schools via several information requests for  enrollment data from the Idaho Dept. of Education.  Those posts explored in detail how non-white students, special education students, and Free/Reduced lunch qualifying students were disproportionately left out of charter schools in comparison to the surrounding school districts’ enrollment demographics.

Prior to the State releasing it’s own report, I wrote an OpEd published in various outlets including IdahoEdNews exploring some of the disparity in student enrollment, particularly in Canyon County where I live.  That writing was met with a competing essay by Amy Russell, Communications Coordinator for the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s Charter Schools).

Ms. Russell not so subtlety suggested in her writing that I had cherry-picked data “that do not fully represent the variability that takes place” from school to school I chose to include which led to a biased and inaccurate reflection of Idaho’s charter school demographics.

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Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network, went one step further and explicitly accused me of cherry-picking the data I utilized in the column.

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That response struck me as odd; As far back as 2006 Vanderbilt University had distributed their research indicating that Idaho’s charters were not doing a very good job at being inclusive places for minority populations; in other words, my findings weren’t really anything new.  Here’s a sample of their findings back in 2006:

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In any case, shortly after those competing sets of writings were published, the Idaho Charter Commission released its own independent report which dispelled any doubt regarding the wild imbalance of charter school demographics in comparison to their neighboring traditional districts.  I also encourage anyone who cares to read the report’s companion, Understanding the Annual Report.

Here’s a sample of just how bad the student imbalance is in Idaho Charters:

Charter Chart

That’s right, only 1 in 10 Idaho charters are reflective of the surrounding community’s ethnic demographics.

The report prompted me to write a follow-up OpEd, also published across the state, sharing the report’s findings with citizens in Idaho.  Again, that OpEd was met with competing writing from Idaho Charter School Network, this time from Terry Ryan.

In Mr. Ryan’s editorial, he acknowledged the demographic gap in minority student enrollment exposed in the report and the need to help charters become more inclusive places for minority students; however, his solution to make this a reality was a call build more charter schools.  Mr. Ryan’s writing states:

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Sorry, but that “solution” strikes me as being counterproductive.  See, we already have charter schools in locations with high populations of minority students.  There is no need to build additional charters for minority students; rather, there is simply a need to make existing charter schools more inclusive.

And while I can certainly sympathize with funding structures that make it difficult for charter schools to build facilities, charter schools in Idaho have managed to build facilities that largely are not sharing in an equitable burden in providing special services for minority students including English Language Instruction and Special Education services.

In other words, the facilities are already here.  The problem is not that we need to build more; the problem is that we need to fix the ones already in place before we foolishly continue building more charters and exasperate the issue further.

As mentioned earlier, this week marks the anniversary of the US Supreme Court Brown v Board decision; I find it only appropriate in the wake of the Charter Commission Report’s findings to ask for a moratorium on Idaho’s charter schools until we address the imbalance, and I wrote an OpEd declaring this position this week.

Here’s a short list of ways to improve minority student enrollment in Idaho’s Charter Schools.  I fully anticipate some of these items won’t be popular:

  • End preferences  during lottery given for founders of charters
  • End preferences during lottery given for employees of charters
  • End preferences given to parents who have siblings in charters
  • End the newly made preference during lottery that is given to any student who was enrolled in any charter school during the previous academic school year
  • Provide busing transportation to all of Idaho’s charters
  • Provide free/reduced lunch programs at all of Idaho’s charters
  • Provide genuine minority service instruction including:
    • English Language Learner programs
    • True Special Education programs including resource rooms / extended resource rooms providing specialized instruction for special education students as mandated in their Individualized Education Plan
    • Response to Intervention (RTI) programs for struggling students.

In this polarized political environment our nation has found itself in, a question often presents itself querying how citizens came to be so far apart and not willing to engage in compromise.  Part of answering that question directly relates to the ability to empathize with someone else’s opinion and viewpoint.

The single best way to help cultivate empathy is to make sure starting at a young age that children have opportunities to interact with peers different from themselves; different languages, cultures, religions, family dynamics, and engagement with individuals with disabilities allows a student opportunities to build empathy for individuals different than themselves, an ability to understand points of view even if at the end of the day they do not agree.

Unfortunately, it appears that charter schools are largely denying students this opportunity; instead, data demonstrates that Idaho’s charter school environments a largely monocultures of homogenous student groups.

Isn’t it time to do something about it?


Complaint Filed Against Idaho charter schools to Office of Civil Rights

PrintToday the Idaho Latino Advocacy group Communidad y Justicia issued a scathing complaint to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) declaring that Idaho’s charter schools are violating state and federal law by failing to provide services for minority populations including non-native English speakers, non-white students, Free and Reduced Lunch students, and special education students

This complaint comes on the heals of several stinging reports both via my own information requests with the Idaho Department of Education as well as a newly released report by the state’s Charter Commission detailing in depth the wild disparity between the demographics of charter schools’ student bodies and those of their surrounding traditional public school districts.

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Idaho Ed News Publishes Cavener’s Charter Analysis

Idaho Ed News was kind enough to feature my analysis on charter on Schools earlier in the week.

It sparked a heated debate on the status quo of charter schools here in Idaho, particularly if minority students have an equal shot at being successful in the charter schools.

That debate also resulted Idaho Charter School Network’s Communication Coordinator Amy Russell penning an opposition OpEd to the data I highlighted.

I encourage everyone to peruse both viewpoints.  Also, it’s worthwhile to look at the data to see how minority students fare in your local school district.  The data sent to me from information requests through the State Dept. of Education is embedded below.

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