Category Archives: Uncategorized

Preparing Idaho’s schools for a post-COVID world

As a teacher who has remained in a hybrid model of in person instruction throughout the pandemic, I could not be more grateful for the arrival of a vaccine that will (hopefully) allow the next academic year to return with some sense of normalcy.

But a return to the prior status quo would be an unfortunate waste of an opportunity to invest in structural deficiencies in our public schools that COVID has exposed.  If there is any silver lining to the damage this virus has caused, it is that it has provided us an opportunity to continue to build on changes required due to its spread.

Let’s talk about class size.  While I would prefer to see each of my students each day, it would be difficult not to stress the positive changes in the classroom when only half the bodies are present.  Class sizes of 35-40+ were the norm prior to the pandemic.  I don’t know if we want to return to that status quo.

Turns out that students tend not to have as many disruptive behaviors when they aren’t packed into a classroom.  It also turns out teachers can actually answer every single student’s questions in a timely manner when there are not more bodies in the room than minutes in the class period.

The value of career technical programs is higher than it ever has been.  Many families have experienced unemployment or had their hours cut.  Unfortunately, the ability for many families to help pay for a college education is simply not in the cards right now.  The ability for a student to receive high quality training in high school in a vocational field is precisely what many students and their families will need in the post-COVID world.

Unfortunately, for many districts the ability to provide Vocational Technology programs entirely hinges on districts’ ability to pass a levy.  That unfortunately reality has not changed just because there is now a vaccine.  We need to make sure these programs are adequately funded and resourced at the state level.

Consistent access to quality internet for students has been more important during this pandemic than ever before.  But we know that many households simply cannot afford this service that has become a necessity.  And that’s assuming that high-speed internet is even available in the community.

Investing in high-speed internet in our state doesn’t just benefit students and schools.  Study after study has demonstrated the boost in economic activity in communities with new access to broadband is well worth the cost.  Making sure all communities have affordable access to this essential service moving forward is well worth the investment.

Access to quality updated textbooks is paramount.  Many classrooms do not have a book to give each student, instead relying on a class set.  Turns out when students are not attending in-person there is no way a class set is going to work.  And that’s assuming the textbook wasn’t over a decade old anyways.  

Colleges and universities expect that arriving freshman students have the ability to study from textbooks on their own.  Yet, many schools simply do not have the resources to make sure their classrooms have quality up-to-date textbooks for each student.  

Mental health services for returning students–particularly those who have been isolated with virtual learning–will be more important than ever.  Unfortunately, the ratio of counselors to students prior to this pandemic was astronomically high.  The American School Counselor Association advises for a ratio of no more than 250 students per counselor.  The most recent data shows Idaho with more than double at 549.

Students will need high quality counseling services more than ever.  It is time to make this investment now so that when we welcome all our students back into full time in-person learning our counselors are able to provide the individualized attention each student deserves.  

Many schools in our state do not have a full time school nurse.  That was a problem prior to the pandemic in distributing medication to students as well as providing trained medical care to special needs students with disabilities requiring such procedures.  Now our limited nurses are also expected to examine symptomatic students, maintain a quarantine space for potential positive students, perform contact tracing, and so much more. Our districts need the resources to make sure every school has a certified full time school nurse, even after this pandemic is over.

Sanitation in our schools has become more important than ever, but the reality is the steps we are taking today to keep the buildings clean and surfaces sanitized are best practices we should have been doing all along.  Our custodians are unsung superheroes in doing their absolute best to make sure our classrooms are as sanitized as they can be, but the reality is that most custodial staff were already overworked and underpaid prior to COVID.  We need to have the resources moving forward to continue implementing the best practices.

We also need to rethink the design of school buildings themselves.   For example, windows are intentionally designed not to open both for security reasons as well as cost-saving measures for heat and air conditioning.  It is frustrating for public health experts emphasizing the need to circulate fresh air in classrooms, but windows in schools were intentionally designed not to do that.  It will take investment to update facilities for changes exactly like this.

I hope I’m wrong about higher education.  I really do.  But when I talk to my seniors about their plans after graduating I hear reluctance in enrolling on a scale I have never seen before.  And their reasons are legitimate.

Many of our high school students became the essential workers we all relied on during the shutdown.  They established full-time jobs, some with career opportunities that do not require a post-secondary education.  Many of our students were relying on mom and dad to help pay for tuition, but like so many families in the country saw mom or dad lose their jobs.  And many more simply don’t want to chance paying for the costs of college if things aren’t back to normal in the fall.

The thing is that even prior to this pandemic our “go-on” numbers were frustratingly low, and all indications from my discussions with seniors lead me to believe enrollment numbers are going to drop even more next academic year.  If we can drop the sticker price on tuition we can encourage many of these “on-the-fence” students to attend.  But that will require the state to invest in these colleges and universities.

The list of these existing deficiencies is of course much larger.  COVID-19 didn’t cause any of these shortcomings that existed prior to its arrival, but it sure did a heck of a job highlighting them.  But it also gives us an opportunity to evaluate if the status quo of public education before the pandemic is really the exact same type of school we want to return to in the next academic year.  I hope that answer is no.

Veteran Teacher Salary Schedule: Cynicism or Blunder?

 

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Will the accountability measures in HO523 make veteran pay out of reach for many veterans, or will schools and districts find a way to get their teachers to attain these measures?

Because the Bill HO523 for “Veteran Teacher” salaries has cleared the House and is now heading to the Senate, I thought I would take a moment to see how the bill would work at my school in order to see how many of my teachers will count as ‘Veterans’ and how the bill will help me improve my school. 

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Another Colossal Pay Disaster

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Remember this? It seemed like such a good idea at the time!

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that on last week, Governor Little just unveiled at $225 million dollar teacher pay increase to help make our state more competitive in the teacher pay department. I support Governor Little, and while that sounds great, as soon as I looked at the details I realized that this bill-like the advanced portfolios for expert teachers-is a disaster. If we pass this bill, with one stroke of pen we will ensure that every “advanced” teacher on this payscale will have either a 3 or 4 (on a 1-4 point scale) on all 22 components of their annual evaluations. 

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Licensing and Teacher Shortages

Last week, the House Education Committee decided to abolish the teacher licensing system at the same time it abolished all state standards. If it stands, this move would virtually let anyone teach anything in the state without having to go through the arduous process of getting licensed to be a teacher and getting their subject endorsements. At first glance, this move may seem crazy, but is it? In truth, we actually do have a licensing problem in this state and it greatly contributes to the teacher shortages you hear a lot about in the news.

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Why Our ISAT Scores Don’t Go Up

Pin the tail shadowThis week, the House Education Committee just voted to abolish our state standards in schools linked to English, Math, and Science. Not amend these, not tweak, but abolish all of them! Their reason: Our ISAT scores that are based on these don’t seem to be moving much. I agree that our test scores are pretty lackluster, but something important to consider: Is it the standards or the tests? Many of these numbers work on the premise that the ISAT, our standard achievement exam, is an accurate measure of what is going on in schools, but is it? Since I’ve administered this exam several times, I’d like to add some information to how schools get an ISAT score that may help to illustrate the problem. 

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2019 Reviewed and 2020 Previewed: A Teacher’s Perspective

Levi B Cavener

By Levi B Cavener

The twenties are almost upon us. And while this decade will no doubt be different than the “Roaring 20’s” a century ago, perhaps there are some lessons to learn by looking to the past.

That time period, like today, was defined by the absence of large scale war in our country and the world. Unions were in decline much as they are today. And the economy was on sound footing similar to a decade of continuous GDP growth as of today.

But the end of that decade was marked by Black Tuesday, a stock market crash that ushered in the next decade of economic free-fall and depression that crippled the nation for years. And while one would hope that the United States and Idaho are not on the verge of another recession to rival 2008, the fault lines are becoming visible. Continue reading

Democrats Have Financial Edge in Supt. Election Fundraising

Cindy Wilson. Boise School teacher seeking Democratic nomination

In a surprising twist, Idaho’s Secretary of State reported today that Idaho’s Democratic challenger for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Cindi Wilson has a substantial edge over her GOP opponents.

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El Chapo’s Gem State Money Laundering School Voucher Bill

By Levi Cavener

Cavener_Levi_HeadshotYou wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, had tutilege from a drug cartel’s money launderer while he was drafting the school voucher bill passed by Idaho’s house last week.  A cursory read of the legislation makes it painfully obvious what the proposed law really is: a money laundering scheme.

The goal of money laundering, of course, is to conceal the origin of dollars.  Except, in this case, the origin of the money is painfully obvious and the purpose of the legislation is also equally so.  See, here’s the deal: Article Nine, Section Five of Idaho’s Constitution makes it abundantly clear that the state cannot distribute money to sectarian entities. Continue reading

Ybarra vs Dillon Campaign Finance Disclosures Fuels Speculation, Unknowns

Today was the due date for candidates’ 2017 annual election finance disclosure reports.

View Ybarra’s Return

View Dillon’s Return

And while at first glance there does not appear to be anything too juicy, the absence of some items is the real story.

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Wanted: Jeff Dillon’s Campaign

Wilder Supt. Dillon

You couldn’t blame even a well informed Idaho primary voter for failing to know that Idaho’s incumbent for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has a primary challenge this spring.

Jeff Dillon, Superintendent of Wilder School District, is running against State Superintendent Ybarra in the GOP primary. Or at least that’s what the Secretary of State says. Continue reading