"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.
manning TRAVIS


The big hand of government is heavy. Right now, Idaho lawmakers are attempting to swipe local control from Idaho’s school districts and charters with House Bill 222, the career ladder and tiered licensure plan.

With only a couple weeks left, lawmakers finally decided to bring out this 33-page behemoth of a bill. Lawmakers got sidetracked this session with the Idaho Education Network debacle so put off dealing with this controversial legislation until now.

Idaho legislators are fond of railing against the federal government, demanding that Idaho have control of its own destiny, from healthcare to wilderness, environmental policy to education. Ironically, state lawmakers then hamstring local municipalities.

Gov. Otter and legislative leaders have touted the need to attract and retain high quality teachers in Idaho, but House Bill 222 doesn’t do that. This plan barely moves the needle in terms of attracting teachers because of all the heavy handed mandates couched in this proposal.

Teachers entering the education field have plummeted the past five years. Some districts have resorted to head-hunting organizations like Teach For America because they are desperate to hire for hard-to-fill positions. Provisional certification can be given to someone with a degree who wants to try out teaching, but it’s with little support. Districts are hiring hundreds of student teachers under emergency licenses because they have no other options.

And the big hand of government is trying to help fix the problem? I say, get out of the way and let’s have an open and honest conversation about political agendas getting ahead of truly improving Idaho’s public schools.

HB 222 makes teachers accountable for conditions over which they have little or no control. It is entirely unfair to connect a majority of student test scores to teachers, when there are so many factors that influence a child. Teachers are not afraid of accountability, but tying student test scores to teacher pay is flat out unethical.

There is nothing in the state Constitution about adequate tax breaks for corporations. Just ask IACI President Alex LaBeau, who’s recent email rant against teachers reveals a corporate entitlement attitude all too prevalent here in Idaho.

Disturbingly, the tiered licensure plan being pushed by the Idaho House was sold to the Governor’s taskforce on education last year with misleading data released from the Idaho State Department of Education. Department data only included white students. When comparing Idaho to other states with similar demographics, and excluding Idaho’s nearly 20 percent minority student population, it made Idaho’s data look bad.

Co-chairs of the Career Ladder/Tiered Licensure Committee Dr. Linda Clark and Rod Lewis cited this misleading research in a co-authored op-ed written in the Sept. 14 Idaho Statesman: “There are currently 13 states, most of which rank ahead of Idaho in student achievement.”

Not true. Actually, the NAEP data used for this measurement included 17 states, and when all student data is used (including minority populations) Idaho is actually ranked 4 out of 17 when Idaho’s minority students are factored into the equation.

Should the new career ladder plan be implemented this year, it will happen because the legislature has rammed this bill down the throats of local school districts and schools.

Lawmakers’ grips are tight and getting tighter. Rural schools can’t take it any more. It’s nearly impossible to adequately recruit qualified staff. Teachers who teach underprivileged, special education or English Language Learners are not wanting to teach these students because of what Idaho policymakers are doing to Idaho schools. We are at a breaking point.

Policymakers claim a recommitment to public education? I don’t think so.

Travis Manning is a high school English teacher and executive director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and can be reached at [email protected]

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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: theSmarter 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: http://bit.ly/1ac5aRZ. 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 [email protected]

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Idaho’s largest virtual charter school, with approximately 3,500 students, has outsourced student essays to India for review in the grading process.

The revelation that K12 Inc., the world’s largest online charter school provider, sent thousands of student essays overseas was revealed back in 2008 by Arizona blogger David Safier. But it wasn’t until September 2013 that K12 verified at least one Idaho charter school was also involved. After being pressed, K12 admitted that Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA), Idaho’s largest virtual school and operated by K12 Inc., had outsourced student essays.

“This was a pilot program offered by K12 to give teachers additional support,” said K12 spokesperson Jeff Kwitowski in an email. “Reviewers provided initial feedback, but teachers assigned grades.

Teachers could use the service at their discretion. It was used by some schools, including IDVA, until the pilot was discontinued.”

Records I have obtained indicate that between August and December 2007 IDVA outsourced over 3,000 essays to India. A Sept. 10, 2008, Education Week article reveals K12 eventually settled into a business relationship with TutorVista, a tutoring service in Bangalore, India. In so doing, IDVA may have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which protects student work and private information.

K12’s “pilot” project highlights an important issue within for-profit charter schools: adequate oversight. Private companies like K12 are not subject to open meetings laws or public records requests.

Ironically, K12’s website claims, “We must foster a culture of professionalism, service, transparency, accountability….” Difficult to hold a company’s board of directors, CEO’s and shareholders to this standard when their business practices, products and services are considered “proprietary.” There is no reason to believe the “pilot” project would have ever been discontinued had an investigator not unearthed the practice and dragged it into the sunlight of parental scrutiny. The IRS is also investigating.

There’s more. IDVA’s 2013 Annual Update also reveals that, “There appears to be potential for conflicts of interest to result from IDVA’s administration and management staff being K12 employees.” And, in a 2012 study by Western Michigan University, 27% of K12’s schools in 2010-11 reported making adequately yearly progress, compared to 52% for brick-and-mortar schools. Perhaps K12, which donated 44K to Superintendent Tom Luna’s 2010 campaign, shouldn’t also get transportation costs for “bring(ing) the school to the children.”

Kase Capital hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, also co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform, eviscerates K12’s business practices. Tilson reminds us that online schools are good for children who need flexible schedules, or who have highly involved parents, but they are not for everyone. He exposes K12’s aggressive recruiting tactics to enroll at-risk and special education students, often from poor, single-parent households where the parent has little time to be the requisite “parent coach.”

Jeff Shaw, former Head of School of K-12-run Ohio Virtual Academy told Tilson, “After the IPO, I got discouraged because the company’s priority seemed to shift from academics to growth…. Eventually, it seemed as though K12’s enrollment strategy was to cast a wide net into the sea of school choice and keep whatever they caught regardless if the catch was appropriate for virtual learning or not.”

One former English teacher from Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School (2010-12) said of K12, “There was no teacher-to-student ratio. When I started, I was assigned 300 students, which was very, very overwhelming. I would try to read each of the essays students turned in … but I was really struggling with that. I couldn’t keep up. I was told to skim over the papers and grade with a rubric.” K12 CEO Ron Packard says, “It’s just K12’s culture.”

Travis Manning is Executive Director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and can be reached at [email protected]

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I am proud to be an Idaho Mormon Democrat.

Not an oxymoron, there are thousands of Idaho Democrats all across this great state who are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I was raised in a Republican house hold by dedicated parents who happened to be devout Mormons.

For years, I esteemed the tenets of the Republican Party as part and parcel to my own moral compass, aligning my political feelings and the political platform of the Republican Party with my firmly held sentiments on social justice and Constitutional protections.

For years, I was a dedicated Republican and happy with a party perhaps best epitomized by President Ronald Reagan. Pragmatic, Reagan was willing to compromise when necessary because he understood that he was president of the United States of America – not just for those in his own party – but for everyone who was a citizen of this great country.

Having worked on George W. Bush’s campaign in Washington State over a decade ago, and traveled the world and seen many different cultures and peoples, I became troubled in recent years with an Idaho political system hell bent on ignoring hundreds of thousands of Idaho citizens, be they Hispanic, poor, Democrat, or otherwise moderate in their viewpoints.

Most recently, I became disenchanted with an Idaho legislature that publicly and unabashedly devalued the funding of Idaho’s public schools. Using an economic downturn as a calculated excuse, the legislature tried to ignore its Idaho Constitutional duty to “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” This same legislature continues to damage public schools today, flying radically in the face of two-thirds of Idahoans who voted down their extreme measures last year in Props 1, 2 & 3.

In recent years, I didn’t leave the Republican Party – the Republican Party left me.

The Republican Party is quick to talk about the notion of competition in business, even education, but is slow to recognize the value of competition in the political playing field, which ideological blind spot is disturbing because it – intentionally or not – devalues rigorous public discourse. When policymakers are not fully accountable to its people, how can public policy be adequately vetted?

It’s ironic that the Idaho GOP platform is quick to want “unequivocal, thorough scientific research” when it comes to managing water flows for fish conservation, but somehow forgets to require the same demands for solid research for drastic, punitive, so called education reforms.

A healthy state government in Idaho needs a healthy Idaho Democratic Party.

While campaigning last year for the legislature, I was appalled to talk to hundreds of Idaho citizens who reluctantly, casually, often quietly admitted they were Democrats, with a quick eye glance to see who might be listening nearby. I was told by dozens that they feared retribution from a boss at work if they revealed their political affiliation. Reprisals for political affiliation have absolutely zero place in a democratic republic like the United States of America and are entirely illegal.

LDS scholar Eugene England, himself a devout Republican, gave insight into the early political issues of the Latter-day Saints. Quoting President Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith in a May 1891 letter to John W. Young, Woodruff feared one-party domination in the state of Utah: “The more evenly balanced the parties become the safer it will be for us in the security of our liberties; and … our influence for good will be far greater than it possibly could be were either party overwhelmingly in the majority.”

Perhaps there is wisdom here.

Travis Manning is executive director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and can be reached at [email protected].

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