Category Archives: General

2020 reviewed, and 2021 previewed: a teacher’s perspective

Welcome to my annual tradition of reflection and prediction. When I read over my previous posts for each year, it strikes me just how wild this set of 365 days has been.

We all know 2020 was a dumpster fire of year, and not just in the world of education. None of could have known the challenges this year would bring, but I started the year off with much optomisim.

At the beginning of the year I was working diligently with hundreds of other volunteers in Idaho collecting signatures for the Invest in Idaho ballot initiative. That initiative, if passed, would have significantly increased funding to Idaho’s public schools, and we were well on track to meet the signature threshold to get it on the ballot.

I traveled on Reclaim Idaho’s duck-taped green bus across the state, learned acting is not the job for me while being filmed for a professional video about the initiative, and quickly qualified the district I live in (District 10) for the initiative by the beginning of March.

And then the pandemic. The day before spring break my classroom was nearly empty, but not because our school was closed. Like the rest of America, families in my community were scared for what would come next.

For me, that meant that school did not resume in-person instruction after spring break. Like many teachers across the country and world, we finished the 2019-2020 academic year with distance learning. Overnight, like many educators, I was expected to become an expert virtual teacher.

And parents were also given the impossible expectation of being an at-home educator. The outcomes were entirely predictable. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Parents, teachers, and administration all went above and beyond to continue providing an education during the initial outbreak.

I never would have imagined that I would be party to a suit that made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court asking that Idaho would allow us to continue gathering signatures for the ballot initiative online since going door-to-door during a pandemic is the square root of stupid. While the 9th circuit initially agreed to allow us to proceed, SCOTUS effectively killed the initiative by issuing a stay order. It effectively killed the ballot initiative.

And while that was the first casualty of COVID for me personally, it is pretty small potatoes in comparison to what was to come. Knock on wood I have remained healthy to date, but so many of my friends and family have contracted the disease. Obviously, I am not alone in this.

Governor Little’s response the near immediate recession caused by a state-at-home order was to cut education funding by almost a hundred million dollars at precisely the time schools needed more resources than ever to safely open schools in the fall.

The State Board of Education completely passed the buck on school repening plans by leaving it entirely up to each individual district and charter school to develop their own plans. The result was business in usual for some communities, hybrid instruction for others, and completely online for others. There was no coordinated strategy.

Ditto a lack of statewide strategy to combat the pandemic. Each individual health district put into place wildly different plans. Some members of the health district board’s questioned COVID’s very existence. The results, there too, were entirely predictable.

During summer when our leaders were rolling out a hodgepodge of strategies, I started a Podcast called Academics in a Pandemic to explore how the pandemic impacted every part of the education community including students, parents, teachers, and professors. It is worth a listen.

As cases surged, so did emotions. Protestors gathered not just at school board meetings & regional health board meetings, but in front of board members’ private residences. Board members resigned as threats against their safety were communicated.

My district has stayed open for in-person instruction in a hybrid model. The school year has been…where to start?

On one hand, it has been so rewarding to not have 40 students in the classroom. In case there was ever any doubt, I will tell you class sizes matter. It is amazing to have the ability to actually answer every student’s questions, have time to check on students’ work in real-time, and form solid relationships with each individual student. Class sizes matter.

On the other hand, the distance-learning component has been haphazard. I have so much admiration for parents and relatives doing their absolute best to transition to their homes into classrooms. But it clearly is not an equal substitute.

Lack of consistent internet access, babysitting siblings, mental health issues from isolation, food insecurity, and…so much more. For some students, it just is not an effective model of instruction. And it is not the student or their family’s fault. COVID simply highlighted inequities that already existed, not caused them.

It’s not COVID’s fault that in the year 2020 many of Idaho’s families do not have access to any internet at all, let alone high-speed broadband.

It’s not COVID’s fault that many families rely on schools’ free and reduced lunch programs for their children’s nutrition.

It’s not COVID’s fault that many schools cannot afford to buy a textbook for every student that they can take home since they are not physically in school.

And so much more. The problems were already there. The question is, what will we do about these structural inequalities now that they have been so clearly exposed.

Which leads me to the prediction portion of this post.

Our state government currently has 500 million dollars in the rainy day fund. Idaho is also projected to have a half a billion dollar surplus. For being in a recession, our state is rolling in Benjamins.

I am cynical the legislature will substantially invest in public schools despite currently having the funds to do so. Governor Little was elected as an “education governor,” but I just don’t see the will in the Republican dominated legislature to inject significant more resources into schools.

I do, however, see much will with the Republican legislature to reduce taxes. Abolishing the sales tax on groceries would be a great way to eliminate a regressive tax that disproportionately impact low income families. If there was ever a time where our state would be in a position to eliminate that tax, now is the time.

I don’t see it happening. I do see Idaho’s top income tier being reduced for the state’s highest earners. I do see conversations on reducing taxes that will benefit the largest corporations in the state. I do see serious conversations related to property tax for homeowners.

I see renewed conversations of voucher programs for families to choose their own schools. And I can totally understand why: many families are incredibly frustrated with schools this year. Whatever model of instruction a school chose, there were bound to be families upset with their districts or charters. It will lead to a renewed interest in amending the state’s constitution which includes the so-called “Blaine Amendment) which prohibits sending money from the State’s treasury to religious institutions, or in this case private religious schools.

I see a continued push in legislation on social issues in schools that sucked all the oxygen from the capital last session on LGTQ issues in schools, especially sports.

Idaho will need to determine if it wants to continue sticking with an Average Daily Attendance (ADA) model for school funding after this requirement was waived for this year. As I have written before, moving to an enrollment based model invites opportunities for fraud, but as this year has shown it also has the advantage of being much more flexible.

I wish that there would be substantial discussion and legislation modernizing Idaho’s health districts. Splitting the Treasure Valley into two separate districts, for instance, clearly had profound impacts as folks who live and commute in both of those districts were not participating in a unified strategy. In fact, quite the opposite.

I see a massive drop in college and university enrollment for the next academic year. Many high school seniors, with schools all but shut down, established full time jobs. Some by necessity due to layoffs and hour cuts for their parents. For many of these young people, it will be difficult to persuade them to leave these jobs and return to full time studies. I hope I’m wrong.

I see Idaho lagging in vaccinations. While I am hopeful we can quickly protect our community and moving into a post-COVID world, many citizens in our state have amply demonstrated their hostility to science and medicine. I hope I’m wrong.

Finally, I do see a new year. Think about that for a second. A brand new year where anything is possible. 2020 has set a pretty low bar for what measures as success.

But I’ll take wins wherever I can find them. Have a happy and safe new year!

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.

 

 

Idaho State Representative: Crony Capitalism Alive and Well at the Statehouse

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Rep. Judy Boyle

Idaho Congresswoman, Judy Boyle (R), issued a scathing criticism in a “voices” piece on Idaho Ed News against the Idaho Department of Administration and Governor Otter himself over the ongoing legal battle regarding the broadband contract for Idaho’s schools, Idaho Education Network (IEN).

Recently, the contract was voided in the courtroom leaving the fate of the internet resource for schools in jeopardy. It may also potentially put taxpayers on the hook for not only attorney bills, but retroactive payment to the aggrieved parties.

Said Rep. Boyle,

Why did this occur? It is an example of crony capitalism, corruption, special favors for campaign donors, the governor’s staff moving to lobby and/or work for the very businesses receiving the contracts or from those companies to the governor’s staff. It is back-slapping, good old boy networks, winks and nods, cover ups, denying involvement, blaming others, attacking those asking questions or with the courage to say the Emperor has NO clothes.

Be sure to read Rep. Boyle’s piece, in entirety, at Idaho Ed News.

 

 

Ybarra and Jones Spar 3 Times this Week

JonesYbarraThis week will be the first time candidates for Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction will be forced to come face to face in a public forum.  Better yet, we will get three doses of it as the candidates spar it out on stage across Idaho.

I encourage you to take the time to write your questions to the moderators of the debates.  One of these candidates will lead Idaho’s students and teachers for the foreseeable future; let’s make sure we know their viewpoints and opinions before election.

It will be interesting to see what issues unite and divide these candidates, and how they share their logic with the audience on the stage.  I will be analyzing the debates throughout the week to see what issues the candidates go on record about.

In particular, the public wants specifics on Common Core, SBAC, and tiered licensure.  We’ll have to wait and see what surprises await in the upcoming debates.

I will appear at the Caldwell debate (see info below), and I sent this question to the moderator regarding my concern over tiered teacher certification:

I am a special education teacher in Caldwell.  I am concerned about tying special education student’s SBAC standardized test scores to my certification and compensation under the proposed Tiered certification model.

Many of these students have behavior difficulties that impede the validity of their responses. For example, I work primarily with students who have emotional disturbances and and autism spectrum disorders that have little motivation to take the exam seriously,  and have bluntly told me of their intention to blow off the exam just like they have in the past.

Is it fair to hold special education teachers to the same standards in the tiered certification proposal considering their students are a very different population unlikely to produce proficient results?

I encourage everyone to take the time to pen a question of your own concern regarding the candidate’s viewpoints on education topics.

IdahoEdNews reported on the dates and times the duo can be seen debating:

  • Tuesday, 7 p.m., Canyon Ridge High School, Twin Falls. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., seating first-come, first-served. Debate will run one hour, with the exchange moderated by Times-News editor Autumn Phillips. Submit questions in advance via email to aphillips@magicvalley.com.
  • Thursday, 7 p.m., Langroise Center, College of Idaho, Caldwell. Sponsored by the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce. Submit questions in advance to thardin@caldwellchamber.org.
  • Friday, 11:45 a.m., Grove Hotel, Boise. Sponsored by the City Club of Boise, and moderated by Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby. Attendees will be able to submit questions to the candidates via the moderator. Registration deadline is noon Wednesday. Cost is $18 for members and $25 for nonmembers, which includes lunch. Listeners who do not want lunch may register in advance for $5. Registration is available online.

I hope everyone will take the time see see what the candidates stand for.

The High Stakes of Overtesting.

By Levi B Cavener

Levi B CavenerThe semester is drawing to a close for many secondary schools, including my own, across the state during the next few weeks. With this closing comes the ritualistic ceremony of the dreaded end of course exam.

Continue reading

The Not So Black and White Timecard

By Levi B Cavener

Levi B CavenerFor many districts in Idaho, students will return to their classrooms tomorrow. Yet, today reminded me that many teachers have never left.

Like many teachers, I was in and out of my school during break to prepare for the spring term and end of semester exams that will hit me full-force starting tomorrow. When I signed in at my school’s out-of-hour log today, I took the time to look over who had been in and out during the break.

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The New Mute Button

Is The Idaho Professional Standards Commission Up to the Challenge?

By Levi B Cavener

Levi B CavenerIdaho educational news made national headlines this year; as usual, it wasn’t because Idaho was touting how it’s educational policies have led it to be a top state in the nation in educating our students. Nope, instead Idaho was blasted over a case involving an ethics probe of an Idaho education teacher. Continue reading

We’re new! Why are we here?

Idaho’s Promise is an organization that focuses on ensuring every student in Idaho is provided with a world class education, regardless of the zip code the student lives in.

Idaho’s Promise advocates for laws and policies that provide a first rate equitable learning experience for every student in Idaho’s classrooms.  Current education policy has resulted in an unbalanced system in Idaho where students are not necessarily provided a uniform system of education as the Idaho Constitution requires.

Current issues of concern are an unbalanced system of taxation to fund districts, corporate ties to public charter schools, untrained professionals working with students as “highly qualified” instructors including Teach for America (TFA) employees, and corporate interference in public education policy through the guise of “philanthropy.”

This site is a platform to help encourage productive discussion, debate, and positive outcomes of education policy in Idaho.