Archives for category: Idaho

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.

Levi B. Cavener is a special education teacher in Idaho. He recently wrote an article arguing that Teach for America recruits with five weeks of training should not be assigned to special education students. A spokesperson for TFA responded that it was okay because they would be getting the training while they taught.

Levi says that is like teaching with training wheels.

He writes:

It’s not ok for a doctor to tell you that s/he’s qualified to do the surgery because s/he will get training later.  Nobody wants to be the one lying on a table with a doctor who has only recently held a scalpel for the first time.

It’s not ok for a lawyer to represent you because he has great ambition to attend school and pass the BAR exam down the road. Nobody wants to stand in front of a judge with an attorney whose only experience in the courtroom is from watching episodes of Law & Order.

It’s certainly not ok for an individual to be placed at the head of a classroom full of our most vulnerable students because TFA training wheels are attached at the waist. Students and parents have a right to expect a highly qualified professional leading this classroom starting on the very first day of school, and a TFA employee does not fulfill this basic expectation.


Advocates of privatization of public schools, please take note:

Governor Butch Otter of Idaho announced that the state was taking control of “the largest privately-run prison in the state after more than a decade of mismanagement and other problems at the facility.”

“Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America has contracted with the state to run the prison since it was built in 1997. Taxpayers currently pay CCA $29 million per year to operate the 2080-bed prison south of Boise.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has long been “a champion of privatizing certain sectors of government, including prisons.”

“In 2008, he floated legislation to change state laws to allow private companies to build and operate prisons in Idaho and import out-of-state inmates. In 2008, he suggested privatizing the 500-bed state-run Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino.

“The CCA prison has been the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity and contract fraud by CCA.

“CCA acknowledged last year that falsified staffing reports were given to the state showing thousands of hours were staffed by CCA workers when the positions were actually vacant. And the Idaho State Police is investigating the operation of the facility for possible criminal activity.”

Levi Cavener wrote this article about why young college graduates with only five weeks of training are not qualified to teach students with disabilities.

Levi B Cavener is a Special Education teacher at Vallivue High School, Caldwell, Idaho.

He wrote it after attending a local school board meeting, where a TFA representative claimed that TFA recruits are well prepared to teach students with high needs:

“At a December 10, 2013, Vallivue School Board meeting I listened to Nicole Brisbane, Idaho’s TFA point person, pitch her product. (The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, a heavy donor to the district, called the board members to see if they would meet with Ms. Brisbane.) During the presentation, board members inquired about TFA’s ability to provide staffing for “hard-to-fill” positions, particularly special education. Brisbane was clear: TFA can provide “highly qualified” special education instructors.”

In Idaho, one foundation calls the shots for education: the Albertson Foundation. This foundation promotes privatization, charters, online learning, and TFA.

A reader sends this comment:

“Dr. Ravitch refers to a “push to introduce charters to Idaho.” Idaho has had charter schools since 1991, though the initial legislation authorizing them has been so often revised by the Legislature that Idaho’s Office of Performance Evaluation recently reported that there is little difference between Idaho charter schools and traditional public schools, and that Idaho charter schools no longer live up to the legislative intent of the laws that created them. (See “Policy Differences Between Charter and Traditional Schools”

Dr. Ravitch. may be referring to the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, a 9-member task force formed in August that is assisted by an advisory group consisting of the task-force chair Paul Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education; Jamie MacMillan, executive director of the Albertson Foundation; Mary Wells, managing partner and co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners; and Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether. Bellwether is an organization founded and populated by hedge-fund managers and venture capitalists with ties to NewSchools Venture Fund. Upon its creation, NewSchools Venture Fund CEO Ted Mitchell described Bellwether as “a new nonprofit consulting organization designed to strengthen the leadership and organizational capacity of entrepreneurial education organizations by offering specialized executive search, strategic consulting, leadership development, and thought leadership services.”

Andrew Rotherham is on the 9-member task force; he is also a partner at Bellwether. He’s joined by Marguerita Roza, senior research associate at the Center for Reinventing Education, and by Terry Ryan, former VP for Ohio Programs and Policy at the right-wing Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Mr. Ryan is the new president of the Idaho Charter Schools Network. Idaho taxpayers can only hope and pray that he is unable to achieve in Idaho the results he achieved in Ohio, where for-profit charter schools have wreaked havoc on public school finances while embroiling themselves in scandal after scandal involving tax evasion, fraud, and misappropriation of tax dollars.

With the lineup listed here, one can easily imagine that any recommendations coming from the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho will be steeped in the New Markets Tax Credits Program, which enables hedge-fund managers and venture capitalist to almost double their money in seven years by financing the building and operation of charter schools. Vouchers, no doubt, will also be part of the plan, as will the use of tax dollars to fund private and parochial schools.

More about the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho is available here:

Idaho just recently approved Teach for America as a “state sanctioned vehicle for the preparation of teachers in Idaho.”

At first I thought this was an April Fools joke but it isn’t April.

The weakest aspect of TFA claims is its “preparation” of teachers in only five weeks. If that is all it takes, then teaching is not a profession but a job for temps.

Travis Manning, a high school English teacher in Idaho explains why this is a very bad idea.

A billionaire family in Idaho has been running ads (“Don’t Fail, Idaho”) disparaging the schools as failures. The Albertson family wants to promote online learning, which will save money but provide worse education. A member of the family invests in K12.

A sad story from an Idaho teacher:

I live in Idaho. I have seen public education dollars drop so low, that we are seeing our largest district in the state, struggling to hold on, using up reserves they once had. The push of charter schools in this state is high.

Idaho has reduced it’s public funding to schools since 2001. The voters of Idaho approved a 1% sales tax increase back in 2006 that was earmarked for education, only for the state to remove other funds that were allocated towards education, to help support a decrease in business property tax. Education lost money in this deal. I know my kids’ school is considered a low performing school, there is high poverty, yet there are great teachers! And, my boys are getting a great education. Charters spread the states’ education dollars further, in an already poorly funded system.

My boys attend a school that has poor ratings, according to Idaho’s new 5 star rating system. I understand there is high poverty in their school, but there are also great teachers and great learning opportunities. I believe my boys are not only getting an academic education, but an education on how to develop relationships with people from all different backgrounds. This is huge, when being successful in a business/career. Everyone encounters different types of people. A mediocre boss, a great boss, a not so great one, and same with coworkers. It is true in any profession. But, in order to be successful in a company, there must be respect…something that seems to be lacking at times when it comes to teachers. In fact, that’s what got me involved. A parent, who saw the blaming of teachers as the problem with our schools, ludicrous! Something was not right, and boy, did I find out more than I could imagine in this web of destruction of our public schools.

Governor Otter even boasted to a gun company to come and bring their business to Idaho, because we have the most minimum wage workers in the country. Just who is failing Idaho, the people? I think not.

We had public hearings on education at the state house. There was going to be a public hearing with the Joint Finance and Approppriations Committee, but Governor Otter didn’t feel that was necessary, because we didn’t have a budget issue this year. Oddly enough, the biggest complaint at the education hearings was lack of funding, regardless if you were supporting “traditional” public schools or charters.

So do we have some high poverty schools? Yes, I guess you can say that. And running these ads of “Don’t Fail Idaho,” are hard to swallow when you know the real truth. Cause no, it is not my kids, nor will I let it be!