Archives for category: Idaho

Levi B. Cavener teaches in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at

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

In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State’s education world including the multimillion dollar 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.”

With a 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.

The PIE charter petition also states that the California nonprofit Education In Motion (EIM) will have exclusive ability to appoint PIE’s board of trustees. Pay no attention to the fact that the California Secretary of State also lists Mr. Hall as agent of that nonprofit at precisely the same California address shared with PMG, which he presides over.

In other words: an out-of-state group (with Mr. Hall listed as agent) has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees to the charter — not the local community. Hand-picked trustees then contract with Mr. Hall’s vendor to manage the charter, in perpetuity. Now, that’s a good business model!

Idaho’s laws regarding charters was written to prevent this apparent type of conflict of interest. It states that “No more than one-third (1/3) of the public charter school’s board membership may be comprised of nonprofit educational services provider representatives.”

In this case, an entity under agency of Mr. Hall has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees which subsequently contract his management services. Some would say that means Mr. Hall controls more than the ⅓ share allowed, and in fact, has de facto control of the entire board.

All of which leads full circle back to the loss of local control because an out-of-state entity is not only in charge of an Idaho school, but is also the recipient of a lucrative business relationship with the school. Isn’t that cronyism? You know, favoring close friends, or, yourself?

But wait, it gets better: PIE withdrew its application from Caldwell School District before trustees voted on the charter proposal, and then resubmitted it to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (IPCSC). That end-around step means that no elected officials will have an opportunity now to vote on opening PIE in Caldwell going forward.

That result is because the IPCSC members who will vote on granting PIE’s charter are appointed by a governor whose tenure has been littered with these types of conflict-of-interest episodes.

And the appointed commission may very well vote to grant a California nonprofit, with Mr. Hall listed as agent, the ability to appoint trustees in Caldwell, Idaho. Which will then engage in a substantial financial contract with an entity also helmed by Mr. Hall. Because that makes sense.

But these are the sorts of things that occur when the public loses control of making fundamental decisions about its local schools when that control is exported to charter schools along with their out-of-state management groups.

And for all the rhetoric about the “freedom” to have “choice” in our public schools, PIE suggests that we have given away every modicum of the freedom to run the schools in our community to a California nonprofit and business partners. Only in Idaho…

High school students in the West Ada school district made a 3-minute video to respond to the Albertson Foundation’s attack on public education. (Read here about the Albertson Foundation’s attacks and its plan to open enough charter schools to enroll 20,000 students.)

The Albertson Foundation is leading a mean-spirited attack on public education in Idaho. They have underwritten television ads saying that the public schools are no good and 80% of the graduates are not prepared for college or careers. Attacks like this are always the prelude to demands for privatization and for replacing public schools with charter schools, vouchers, and virtual charters.

The students got tired of hearing these stale and erroneous complaints from a handful of billionaires who don’t like public education, so they made their own video. Of course, they can’t afford to put it on television, but they can put it on social media.

Let’s hear it for the kids! They are alright in Idaho!

Daphne Stanford left the following comment on the blog. Idaho, she says, doesn’t care about education. It doesn’t care about its own children.



Yes, there is a problem with education in Idaho; however, it’s not the fault of the teachers or the schools. The problem is much more complex than that. As a former high school English teacher who has also taught college-level composition, I can testify to the woeful state of education funding in Idaho: while I was teaching in Riggins, for example, the district had to pass an emergency bond levy for more school funding simply in order to keep the schools open. That’s ludicrous. I’ve also never heard of high schools actually charging students to take choir or art, for example, or to participate in team sports. It’s painfully obvious to me that part of the problem is not only that there is a lack of funding; there is also, sadly, a lack of belief or trust in education and educators–especially in rural Idaho. As one of the reddest states in the U.S., our state is especially prone to private corporations hijacking public education in the name of progress or technology. However, it’s not that simple. What is simple, however, is the formula that makes for good education: small class sizes, teachers who are adequately paid & supported, and a community that also supports and believes in education. If class sizes are bloated and overcrowded, if funding is non-existent, if teachers are overworked and underpaid–guess what? Education is going to suffer. It’s really not that complicated.

A few days ago, I added Boise superintendent Don Coberly to the blog’s honor roll because of his forthright opposition to a campaign intended to discredit public education. It turns out that the superintendent and every member of his school board signed on to a joint response to the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation’s efforts to diminish public regard for public education.


Superintendent Coberly was not alone.


A long list of Idaho superintendents also spoke out and I now add them to this blog’s honor roll. They spoke out against a well-funded campaign to slander the public schools of the state and thereby to persuade the public to support privatization.


The Idaho-based Albertson Foundation has run a propaganda campaign called “Don’t Fail Idaho,” attacking the SAT scores of the public schools. The superintendents have issued statements supporting their schools against this campaign of misinformation.


Here is a great statement by Superintendent Wendy Johnson of the Kuna School District. It includes graphs that show the plans of the district’s graduates. (Added bonus: She quotes yours truly. Smart woman! Well-read, too!)


Here is another statement, signed by 13 superintendents.


They wrote:


In recent weeks, many of your readers may have seen an advertisement presented by the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign which dramatically drops four Idaho students in the middle of the desert and leaves them there with one student left on the bus, forlornly waving to those that were “left behind.” The claim of this advertisement is that four out of five students are not prepared for life after high school.


As superintendents of many schools in this area, we feel it is important to defend our districts against a blatant attempt to undermine support for the public school system that serves this area. The “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign and its parent organization, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, have based their claims on SAT data which is a predictor of a student’s performance in the first semester of their first year in a four-year institution. This data is tremendously narrow and does not reflect what is happening in our schools and with our students.


Our students leave our high school campuses and embark on multiple career and college paths. Some choose junior colleges. Some choose two-year technology programs. Some attend technical schools and academies. Some start their own businesses or attend management schools. The SAT has no predictive power for these viable avenues. Those that choose a four-year university may be subject to those national statistics, but we teach our students that they can beat those odds every day, and they do.


In just the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year, 10 of our high schools had 1,082 students enrolled in dual credit courses through Idaho State University earning 3,577 credits in that time. That is only a portion of what we offer our students. We also offer courses from CSI, CWI, BSU, and U of I, not to mention the AP and professional technical certificate bearing courses. In addition, according to the NAEP (the nation’s report card), Idaho ranks higher than 22 other states in math and reading for 2015.


Is there room for improvement in our schools? Certainly. We embrace that challenge and continue in our commitment to improve our schools and the experience that our students gain while attending. While we recognize the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and its dedication to helping students in Idaho succeed, we ask that the foundation ceases this divisive campaign and support Idaho’s students in a way that does not cut down the very teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of the students in Idaho. Growth and economic development in Idaho is dependent upon all of us working together. We ask that the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation work with us in our efforts to educate all students.


If the “Don’t Fail Idaho” organization continues to drop those students in the desert, rest assured that our districts will pick up those remaining students and place them at the doorstep of their pathway to a successful future.



Wayne Rush, another Idaho superintendent, released his own statement:



My first reaction when I saw the ad was to yell at the television. What would bring anyone to produce advertisements declaring that 80 percent of Idaho’s teens are not prepared for life after high school? If you have not seen the ad, it shows a school bus carrying five students, four are left at the side of the road somewhere in Idaho’s desert and one remains on the bus. The announcer says, “4 out of 5 Idaho teens aren’t prepared for life after high school. If we don’t work together to change education we are all going nowhere.” The logo “Don’t Fail Idaho” appears. When you go to their website, you find that the Idaho Business for Education (IBE) and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation (JKAF) are misusing SAT data and a State Board of Education goal to make this ridiculous claim.


It makes me very sad that the J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation is undermining Idaho’s public education and the state as whole to promote its agenda. I worked for the JKAF for more than six years and know the love and commitment that Joe and Kathryn Albertson had for Idaho’s youth. They and their family have given so much to our state and I am forever grateful. However, this campaign leaves me perplexed as to why they would twist data to put Idaho, our schools, teachers, and our youth in the worst possible light.


The College Board (which produces the SAT) and universities that use these scores have never made the claim that not reaching a benchmark score on the SAT means you are not prepared for life after high school. The College Board states, “The SAT Benchmark score of 1550 is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first-year GPA of B minus or higher at a four-year college.” A test is one predictor of college success, but not the best. The courses our students take like dual credit and career and technical courses (such as auto, business, and engineering) are much better predictors of success after high school.


I am proud of our community, parents, students, teachers, and staff for the efforts each has made in providing a high quality education here in Gem County. Our staff works every day in preschool through high school to prepare our students for a successful future. They are continually improving teaching and learning for the advancement of our students.


These SAT scores come from a recent effort by Idaho and the Emmett School District to increase the number of students that are going on to some form of post-secondary education, whether trade school, two-year, or four-year college. The state now requires students to take a college entrance exam, like the SAT to graduate from high school. The state will pay for all juniors to take the SAT assessment and 88 percent of Idaho’s juniors are now taking this exam. Emmett School District has chosen to have the entire junior class take the exam. This is a great step to encourage students to attend postsecondary education and to help us align our curriculum to ensure students are college and career ready.


We gain a lot of good information from this assessment. This fall, our teachers dove deeply into the results to discover areas where we need to improve. It also allows our students to see how they perform compared to average scores from students enrolled in colleges and universities they are interested in attending.


It does make a difference when school districts and our state make bold moves to improve education. The College Board reported that in Idaho, “In 2013, 1,740 students met the benchmark. In 2015 that number of successful students more than doubled, with 4,250 meeting the benchmark.” We ought to be proud of the progress we are making not running advertisements saying we are failing.


To prepare students for life after high school, our teachers provide college-level, dual credit courses for our high school students. Just this fall, our students completed 168 courses earning 504 college credits through the University of Idaho, Boise State University, Northwest Nazarene University, and the College of Idaho. They were successful in courses such as college level math, chemistry, psychology, medical terminology, biology, history, and political science. We have had many students complete over 30 college credits before they graduate from Emmett High School. These students are clearly ready for college.


In addition, our students are participating in clubs, drama, music, sports, as well as many other community activities and events that help prepare them for life after high school. Our high school won first place in 3A State Football this fall and our girls just took 3rd place in the state basketball tournament. These students are learning what they can accomplish through grit and team work.


Idaho, our teachers and staff, and our students are not failing Idaho. We roll up our sleeves every day and work hard to prepare for a bright future.


Ironically, some of these statements were published in the Idaho Education News, which is funded by the Albertson Foundation.


Another irony, Joe Albertson, who founded the grocery store chain that is the basis of the family fortune, was a 1925 graduate of Caldwell High School in Caldwell, Idaho. A public school.

Dr. Don Coberly, the superintendent of the Boise, Idaho, school district, wrote a blunt letter to the district’s staff telling them not to believe the smears disseminated by the rich and powerful Albertson Foundation. This would be like the superintendent of Los Angeles telling Eli Broad to take his money and go away. Or the superintendent of any district turning down a bribe from the Gates Foundation to open more charters.



For his courage, I add Don Coberly to the blog’s honor roll.



The Albertson Foundation has been pushing charters and virtual charters. It doesn’t like public education. It is running an anti-public school campaign called “Don’t Fail Idaho.” It is about time that an educator with guts started a campaign calling out the Albertson Foundation for their anti-public school propaganda. Call it the “Albertson Foundation Fails Democracy” campaign.



Superintendent Coberly wrote:

Dear Boise School District staff member:


It’s been a while since we have communicated directly with you in an update. We wanted to take this opportunity to address an important issue.


Over the last few weeks you may have heard or seen the latest advertisements from the J.A and Kathryn Albertson Foundation’s “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign. Perhaps the most controversial claim is that four out of five Idaho students are not prepared for life after high school. There are four facts we want you to understand about this campaign:

It promotes an agenda that is designed to undermine public schools.
It is highly inaccurate.
It offers no real solutions to increasing post-secondary readiness.
It is a disservice to the work you do every day for the youth of this district.
Undermining public schools



Why would someone want to undermine public education in Idaho? The motive is quite clear. At a recent Downtown Rotary Club meeting, the executive director of the Albertson Foundation stated that the goal of the Foundation is to increase charter school seats by 20,000 in the next few years. That will only happen if Idahoans lose faith in their public schools.



Predicting college success



Now let’s set the record straight. The data in question have been spun to create the illusion that 80% of Idaho’s high school graduates are not prepared for college. The source of the data is the 2015 SAT test, administered to juniors in Idaho’s high schools last April. The criteria used by the Foundation? A score of 500 on each of the 3 sections of the test, and an overall score of 1550, adopted by the Idaho Board of Education as an indicator of college success.



The creator of the SAT indicated that achieving this score provides a 66% chance that a freshman will achieve a grade average of B- in the first semester at a four-year college. While this may be one predictor of success in college, it clearly does not reflect other factors that often are more important. High school grades are more predictive than SAT scores. Experience in Dual Credit and Advanced Placement courses are more important. Enrollment and success in Professional Technical coursework, such as Welding or Auto Body, is more important.



Among members of the Boise District high school graduating class of 2009 who have graduated from college, nearly 40% did not achieve the benchmark when they took the SAT or its competitor, the ACT. According to the Foundation, it must be a miracle they graduated from college.



Additionally, we know that only 1 in 10 Boise District students entering Boise State University require remediation in math and reading. This is direct evidence that at least 90% of District students are prepared for college – and that’s due to the tremendous work you do with our students.

Our commitment to post-secondary readiness


The ad is just one more indication that the Foundation is out of touch with where Idaho is going. For the first time in nearly a decade, The Governor, State Board of Education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Legislature, ISBA, IASA, and the IEA are working together to build up our public education system, funding schools more properly and making teacher salaries more competitive in order to improve the economy and develop a more educated citizenry. The Albertsons Foundation is trying to tear it down.


Your efforts are appreciated



In spite of the disheartening rhetoric that the Albertson Foundation is promoting, we know that the community supports and recognizes the work that all of you do daily to prepare our students. We will continue to oppose any effort to undermine your dedication, our students’ successes and the role public schools play in creating a vibrant, healthy city and state.



Please feel free to share the information contained herein with parents and community members who might have questions for you about the negative campaign being waged across the state by the Albertson Foundation. We value your service to the community and to our students, and we know that parents and community members do, as well.
Our District’s mission is to “graduate each student prepared for college, career, and citizenship.”


Thanks so much for all you do to help us achieve this mission.



Dr. Don Coberly

Boise School District



Idaho has its own member if the Billionaire Boys Ckub, the guys who want to privatize public schools, use online learning to decrease the need for flesh-and-blood teachers, and undermine the teaching profession.

A reader, Mary Ollie, writes:

“Idaho Education News is funded by the Albertson Foundation so its reputation as an “independent” news outlet is questionable. IEN reprinted this news release/advertisement from Bluum. Absent of course is any mention of details about KIPP or Terry Ryan (who came from Ohio to oversee Idaho’s charter school expansion)

“A look at the foundation’s 990’s shows contributions to Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and the Friedman school choice group. In addition, there are substantial funds provided to charter schools. Blogs by the foundation director have made support for charter schools and TFA very clear. This along with “Rural Opportunities” (better titled rural opportunities for investors) will be the death of rural public schools.

“Unfortunately Idahoans see very little of this because the mainstream media does not dig. In fact, the Statesman has been driving traffic to the foundation’s online “news” by providing links on its page. Often articles written by IEN reporters are printed without any disclaimer.

“That’s how they roll! And Idahoans are asleep.”

Levi Cavener, a teacher of special education in Idaho, learned that Idaho will give the Common Core test SBAC) to tenth graders even though it includes eleventh grade content.

“However, I was shocked during this exchange when the Director told me that the decision was due to the fact the state was worried students wouldn’t take the test seriously, and they didn’t want their data set tainted…because, you know, then the results wouldn’t be valid.

“Here is the Director’s response to my question of the logic in giving 10th graders the SBAC instead of 11th graders:

[The director said “Grade 11 is optional this year as your juniors have already met graduation requirements with the old ISATs and might not take the new tests seriously if they were used for accountability.”
Well, that’s convenient. I’m glad the State Department can cherry-pick the students who take the SBAC “seriously” and which students will not; I’m sure they will give that same privilege to teachers…oh..err…I guess not.]

See, here’s why my jaw was left open: The Director of Assessment admitted, rightfully and logically, that if students won’t take the test seriously, then there is no point in assessing them because the data will be invalid. And, if that’s true, let’s not assess those kidos because it would be a total waste of time and resources, not to mention the fact that the data would be completely invalid.

Thus, it would be logical to conclude that if the data is not accurate, then the SDE surely wouldn’t want to tie those scores to something as significant as a teacher’s livelihood.

Oh wait…they want to do exactly that? Shucks!

According to the the Idaho State Department of Education’s recent Tiered Licensure recommendations, SBAC data will be tied directly to a teacher’s certification, employment, and compensation.

Yet, If the Dept. of Ed admits SBAC data isn’t accurate, then what in the world are they doing on insisting that the data be tied to a teacher’s certification, employment, and compensation?

The insistence of tying data that is admittedly invalid is synonymous to tying a fortune cookie to real-world events. I don’t know about you, but my lucky numbers haven’t hit the lottery; what a scam!”

The test is more than eight hours long.

Writes Levi, “Isn’t it logical to conclude that at some point that kidos decide they would rather go outside to recess rather than reading closely on a difficult text passage or spending more time editing a written response? When the kido makes that decision, do we hold the teacher responsible for the invalid data?”

And what about special education kids? “Let’s compound that scenario for special education teachers who work with a population of students qualifying for a special education eligibility under categories of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders, Emotional Disturbances, and Autism Spectrum diagnosis.

“Yup, I’m sure these students will always take the multi-day SBAC with the utmost earnestness; it’s not like the very behaviors they demonstrated to qualify for special education services to begin with would impede their ability to complete the SBAC with total validity of the results?”

Levi B. Caener, a special education teacher in Idaho, happened to read a publication by the National Governors Association “A Governor’s Guide to Human Capital Development.” Really. People who work for the NGA think of children as “human capital.” Do they have children? When they come from the office, do they say, “hello, my little human capital?” On the weekends, do they play ball or go to the zoo with their human capital? Do they take their human capital for a new pair of shoes?

Levi writes:

“Yes teachers and parents; we are not instructing creative individuals to become well rounded global citizens. On the contrary, we are building “human capital” and thus the job of a teacher, and consequently the instruction, must be collectivized to the extent that every widget, ahem, student can contribute to whatever the central planning authority (or the National Governors Association – NGA) dictates is appropriate….Never mind that creativity stuff. Nobody cares. Teachers aren’t meant to create artists or independently thinking individuals. No, we are creating human capital! Thus, a one-size-fits all approach is not only recommended, it is required in order to fulfill the vision of utopian human capital!”

He concludes:

“So let me go on the record. According to this report I am bad human capital.

“You see, I want to inspire my students. I believe that every one of them can be successful in their individual pursuits. Sometimes, certainly, this is within the corporate structure of wages, salaries, etc.

“However, I am just as eager to motivate the artists: the painters, the poets, the musicians, the sculptors. I encourage my students to think critically of the country and world they live in, and to use credible evidence researched to support their claims.

“While I want students to be able to perform as well as they can in any assessment situation, including a standardized format, I am well aware that such a single snapshot is not reflective of a student as a whole. Yet, the National Governor’s Association wants to use this single snapshot to drive education policy.

“Using a single snapshot of information is synonymous to assuming since it is raining today, it must rain tomorrow. In the absence of other measures or input, there is no logic to suggest otherwise.

“The fallacy of using standardized data leads to poor planning of education policy; however, more importantly, it leads to treating students as “human capital” instead of incredible individuals ready to be challenged and immersed critical thinking and motivated by personal inquiry and personal fulfillment of understanding new topics.

“Sorry National Governors Association. I am content to be bad human capital. I will continue promoting an individualized approach to education that recognized I am not a robot and my students are not widgets.”

This article was sent to me by the author, Travis Manning, who teaches high school English in Idaho.


We have reached a testing crisis in Idaho and Common Core hasn’t helped. As a current high school English teacher, I know. We are over-testing children, including the new 8-hour Common Core test: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

In high school alone we give students the PSAT, SAT, IELA, PLAN, ACT, pre- and post-tests, end-of-semester exams, ASVAB, Science ISAT, AP tests, SBAC, PLATO, benchmarks, Career Information System (CIS) and sometimes the NAEP. Not all students take every test every year, but the testing process disrupts the entire school calendar, regardless. Testing burns weeks of instructional time, clogs up school computer labs, and costs millions. Special education students are given even more tests, often with accommodations to take as much time as they need, soaking up weeks more in a teacher’s curriculum calendar.

I support the Common Core standards generally, but I do not support the high-stakes test, the SBAC. Last year I wrote an op-ed in support of Common Core, but there are some ongoing concerns since then that haven’t been addressed by policymakers: fiscal strain, increased class sizes, cutting necessary programs and courses, teacher and student privacy issues, and tying teacher merit pay to SBAC.

The proposed teacher career ladder is coming down the pike, but details are sketchy. Idaho legislators want to tie as much as 50 percent of SBAC scores to teacher pay. “Our students are the most over-tested in the world,” writes education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch in a January 11, 2014 speech. “No other nation—at least no high-performing nation—judges the quality of teachers by the test scores of their students. Most researchers agree that this methodology is fundamentally flawed, that it is inaccurate, unreliable, and unstable, that the highest ratings will go to teachers with the most affluent students and the lowest ratings will go to teachers of English learners, teachers of students with disabilities, and teachers in high-poverty schools.”

We have become a nation infatuated with standardized testing and, in the process, have given private testing companies the onus for unnecessarily labeling schools, children and teachers. Groups like the Albertson Foundation and their Don’t Fail Idaho campaign continue to beat public schools about the head with statistics. Their campaign is meant to inform – but also to demoralize public schools – in order to privatize them, convert them into for-profit charters.

Ravitch notes that U.S. Department of Education website data reveals that recent U.S. test scores were “the highest they had ever been in our history for whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians; that graduation rates for all groups were the highest in our history; and that the dropout rate was the lowest ever in our history.” Unabashedly, privateers like Governor Otter and Superintendent Luna choose to ignore these facts.

New York state gave Common Core tests last spring and only 30 percent of students passed, including less than 20 percent of Hispanic students, 5 percent of students with disabilities, and 3 percent of English language learners. Could New York teachers use Common Core test results for item analysis and re-teaching? Nope. Results were reported in August. SBAC passing marks, called “cut scores,” are aligned with the federal test called NAEP, and the bar is set so high only 40 percent of students, at best, reach proficiency.

In Idaho, we are setting up 60 percent of our children to fail. My young children will not be taking the SBAC, especially in their elementary years, when their love of learning is paramount.

One answer: “opt out.” See Idahoans for Local Education website: For the sake of Idaho’s children and teachers: “opt out.”

Travis Manning is executive director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and can be reached at

Another star in the corporate reform, teacher-bashing firmament goes dim.

Tom Luna, author of the deservedly malligned Luna laws, is not running for re-election.

The Luna laws were vintage corporate reform, but were soundly overturned in every county in red state Idaho.

Luna is known for his devotion to online learning. His campaigns always attracted generous support from the tech industry, and he in turn made it mandatory for high school graduation.

Quid pro quo.