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Posts published in “Day: February 24, 2017”

The impact, not the numbers

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Last May, I wrote about a report from the Wilderness Society contending that since statehood, 41 percent of the “endowment” lands Idaho originally received from the federal government had been sold.

A couple of weeks later, the Department of Lands wrote to take issue with the Society’s numbers, especially with the 41 percent figure - the correct figure would have been about a third. Since the reply was widely disseminated in news stories at the time, and since the numbers differ largely on the relatively technical basis of what you choose to include or not, I didn’t return to it in a later column because whether the amount was 41 percent or 33 percent, it still was a lot. The Society’s basic point, that a lot of land had been sold off, appeared to remain, though no fine point was put on its implications.

Last week, another shoe dropped, this one less about the numbers than about the meaning of the transactions. This came in the form of new research from the Society and the Idaho Conservation League that, in their words, “reveal what appear to be widespread violations of the Idaho constitutional limit on how much land the State Land Board can sell to private parties. The new findings further deflate claims by public land takeover advocates that Idaho citizens won’t be locked out of their forests and recreation lands if they are given to the state. The sales in question span nearly a century, from statehood in 1890 until sales in the 1980s.”

That makes them pertinent indeed. As the groups also pointed out, “The Idaho Legislature is also considering a measure (Senate Bill 1065) from Senator Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens) that requires all state agencies to prioritize privatization of state lands.”

And the response this time from the Department of Lands was a little different. Director Tom Schultz released a statement saying, “At this time I am not prepared to concur with or dispute the conclusions reached by the Wilderness Society. Even though no discrepancies have been identified over the past 30 years, I intend to hire an independent auditor to review IDL’s records and advise the Land Board on its findings. I understand that the analysis by the Wilderness Society may raise concerns about land sales, and want to assure Idahoans that there are measures in place today to ensure that individuals and businesses do not purchase lands exceeding constitutional limitations.”

(The department did point out that there appear to have been no instances of such sales in at least the last 30 years or so.)

Because it had to fulfill detailed information requests from the environmental groups some time ago, the department has been aware for a while this question has been pursued. If it had an easy response to the allegation, it would have offered it. By assigning the case to an independent auditor, the declaration of problematic sales (assuming the groups’ research is on track) would come from a non-state employee, which would be a little easier for everyone on the state side to swallow.

What this suggests is that the allegation, of regular extra-constitutional land sales to private parties across much of Idaho’s history, has a good chance of holding up.

What if anything will be done about it is another question, further down the road.

A master mystery

A guest submission by Levi B. Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org

If you are a teacher who feels a little lost about the Master Teacher Premium--which is now also apparently being referred to as the Master Educator Premium--don't feel bad. The legislature is equally lost in the program of their own making.

A survivor of the shipwrecked tiered licensure, the master teacher premium was hatched as a way to get some educators closer to the original sixty thousand salary goal line after the legislature capped the career ladder salary allocation short at just fifty thousand. When implemented in 2019, qualifying teachers will receive an additional four thousand per year for three years.

Some problems: the rubric which will be used to assess which teachers are Jedi quality and which are still padawans has not been developed. Teachers will be required to submit a portfolio of artifacts covering at least three of the previous five school years, but the evaluation tool and process to evaluate selected evidence to determine the superhero variety of teachers from their sidekick colleagues has not yet been determined.

Because, as teachers know, best practice is to assign work to students by only giving them a vague idea about what is expected. Make sure to avoid generating a rubric prior to giving the assignment. When asked by students for an assessment tool that is little more specific, best practice is to shrug and let students know a rubric should be available in the next year or two. Hopefully. Foolproof pedagogy!

Keep in mind that the legislature really has no idea this test of teacher awesomeness is going to cost the state. Sen Thayn went so far as to call the plan a “house of straw” that has a shaky financial foundation at best.

Idaho Ed News reported the State Dept. of Education estimating that only a shockingly small ten percent of Idaho teachers will apply. Keep in mind that doesn't mean the SDE believes ten percent of Idaho teachers will be awarded the distinction, only that ten percent will submit the paperwork.

Is the connotation of that estimate taken to mean that Idaho's State Department of Education believes that, at best, only one in ten of Idaho educators are masters in their craft?

Sen. Thayn’s critique is legitimate. Suppose that fifty percent of Idaho teachers meet the eligibility criteria. Further suppose that only half of those eligible teachers apply. That leaves 25% of Idaho’s teachers submitting applications.

That plausible scenario would result in a whopping 250% applicant increase in comparison to the SDE’s projection. Is the legislature ready to put its money where its mouth is, particularly if awardee numbers come in significantly over the current conservative projection?

Will the legislation be tweaked to include a quota? You know, because the state only has so much money--err space--for awesome teachers?

Also consider the cost of the folks actually performing the evaluation of the portfolios as well. What criteria will be used in determine who is fit to judge teacher awesomeness? It is doubtful qualified evaluators will work for free.

The larger the laundry list of demands to be included in the portfolio means the larger the workload--and elevated cost--of assessing padawans from their Jedi colleagues. And what happens when a teacher doesn't receive their black belt? What will be their recourse? A suit in our courts that further taxes the state?

Don't stress though teachers. None of us are Jedi masters yet. Who knows what will happen between now and 2019 when the awards are delivered. As Master Yoda tells us, “patience you must have.”