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The special-ed problem

readings

The shortage of teachers in Idaho has generated particular problems in some areas, notably in special education, as one special-ed teacher reports here.

By Levi B. Cavener

As a parting gift before the new year, the Idaho Board of Education released a painfully grim picture for teacher recruitment and retention in its ironically named “Teacher Pipeline Report.”

That report details a current a woefully inadequate current mechanism to attract and retain qualified teachers in the Gem State that is anything but a pipeline delivering the necessary flow of new talent.

A few takeaways: One third of newly certified teachers in Idaho leave to teach in greener pastures outside Idaho; one in ten current Idaho teachers will call this year their last--much higher than the national average; of teachers quitting, three out of four are doing so before retirement age.

And while recruiting and training highly qualified teachers of all kinds across grade levels and content areas is concerning, let’s narrow this discussion to a persistent trend that is plaguing Idaho's schools: the ability to find and retain special education educators.

It is an open secret that finding qualified special education teachers--particularly in rural areas--is just about as easy as electing a Democrat to a State office. Good luck!

In fact, since the 2013-2014 school year, the number of new Special Education certification awards has grown by only 32 to a depressingly low 292 annual certificates. Hardly the type of bumper crop that would even put a dent in the statewide shortage of SpEd teachers.

Add to that stormy picture that the average special education teacher has an astonishingly low career lifespan, with an especially low teacher retention and high attrition rate in comparison to other teaching positions.

It has become an especially ugly cycle. Each year, the surviving special education teachers are tasked with their already overflowing plates to teach the brand new special education staff--often arriving brand new to the teaching profession, let alone to special education, through programs like ABCTE and Teach for America--to teach the new teachers after the diaspora at the end of the previous academic year.

For those schools who were not able to fill the positions, the remaining special education teacher was likely tasked with teaching a paraprofessional how to lead the classroom since a teacher could not be located. All the while, their own caseload and paperwork duties increase exponentially without another teacher to share the weight.

This is in no way intended to disparage our paraprofessionals who work miracles in the classroom each day in the midst of a staffing crisis. However, keep in mind the paraprofessionals cannot complete the bushels of paperwork required for special education students on the teacher's caseload.

The result is that many special education teachers spend far more time typing on a keyboard completing IEP documents and eligibility reports than they should be spending instead of teaching the kiddos who need excellent instruction the most.

And to be fair, this is a national problem. But in a state that is the first to be last in wage compensation to our neighborhood, the added burdens to the resource teachers are simply too much too handle.

It is time the state addresses this problem as the crisis that it is. A starting point in addressing the problem is tasking that fresh data containing average certified special education teacher to special education student ratio from each school and district be placed in the legislators’ hands.

It is past time this issue receives the attention it deserves, both for the benefit of exceptional children and for the teachers working with them.

Levi B Cavner is a special education teacher living in Caldwell, Idaho.
 

The impact of cats

By Grant Sizemore

Domestic cat legislation is probably not the top of most people’s legislative priorities. How much cat legislation could even exist, right?

It turns out that recent years, 2017 included, have seen a flurry of introduced bills pertaining to cats --bills that could drastically affect pet owners and non-pet owners alike. These bills have implications for public health and wildlife conservation that are often overlooked and, if the past is any indication, will soon be debated in a state legislature near you. It’s time to start paying attention.

Some background: The U.S. is currently suffering a cat overpopulation problem. There are simply too many cats for the number of homes that want a pet, and we humans are not always the most responsible guardians even when we do accept these animals into our homes. Too frequently, cats end up lost or abandoned and revert to a feral lifestyle in order to survive. Animal shelters suffer under the weight of high demand for services and too few resources, and the result is a burgeoning population of unowned cats that urgently require attention and effective management.

What few people realize, however, is that these free-roaming cats are a public health risk. Cats are the top source of rabies among domestic animals and, according to a study led by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are disproportionately more likely to expose people to the disease than wildlife. A person is far more likely to attempt to interact with an unknown cat than, say, a skunk. But mention rabies to someone today and they are more likely to think about dogs, despite rabid cats consistently outnumbering rabid dogs by approximately three to one.

The public health risk from cats, however, does not actually rely on a cat scratching or biting anyone. Felines – both domestic and wild – are the critical host for the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. The parasite only sexually reproduces in the feline gut and is then spread into the environment in cat feces. A single cat can excrete hundreds of millions of tiny, infectious eggs called oocysts, which persist in the environment for years and can infect any warm-blooded species that might accidentally ingest or inhale it, including humans.

Most people have only heard of toxoplasmosis if a doctor has advised against a pregnant woman cleaning cat litter. Although pregnant women and their fetuses are certainly at risk, they and the immune-compromised are not the only ones. Research has shown that, in addition to maladies such as blindness, miscarriage, organ failure, and death, the symptoms of infection may also be subtle, including behavioral changes. Free-roaming cats, which are more likely to host and transmit the parasite by defecating in parks, gardens, sandboxes, or other locations frequented by people, unnecessarily increase the risk of human infection with toxoplasmosis.

As efficient and opportunistic predators, the free-roaming cat population also threatens wildlife communities. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species worldwide and are the top source of direct, human-caused mortality to birds in both the United States and Canada. Cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals annually in the United States alone. For many species, this added source of mortality is simply unsustainable and is a contributing factor to the documented declines of over one-third of all migratory bird species in the U.S.

Despite these risks and the abundance of free-roaming cats, many of the bills introduced in recent years would only have added to the problem if passed. Legislative proposals have included exempting certain people from prohibitions against abandoning cats, treating homeless cats with less care and respect than homeless dogs, and commandeering public funding to purposely maintain colonies of feral cats roaming unrestricted outdoors. These bills would do more harm than good and ignore mountains of science, including the warnings of public health and wildlife conservation professionals. Rather than resolve the crisis, such bills only facilitate the problems that already exist without addressing the root issues, resulting in the needless suffering of cats, wildlife, and people.

What do we need instead? Legislation that takes a more focused and evidence-based approach to reduce the numbers of unowned cats and their impacts. To combat the problems caused by the cat overpopulation crisis, we as a society need to acknowledge the value of cats and raise the level of care and responsibility for these domestic animals to the same level now enjoyed by dogs. We do not permit hordes of feral dogs to run amok, and it should be similarly unacceptable for feral cats. Instead, we should encourage responsible pet ownership, including efforts like microchipping, sterilization, vaccinations, and containment, and support animal shelters, especially those whose doors are always open.

For more information on cat legislation based on sound science and public policy protecting human health please see American Bird Conservancy’s model companion animal ordinance.

Grant Sizemore is Director of American Bird Conservancy’s Invasive Species Program.
 

What not to do

This is a guest opinion by Levi Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org.

One can’t blame the Albertson Foundation for wanting to avoid an appearance that it continues meddling in public affairs. After spending years in an effort meant to undermine public schools, most Idahoans have little trust left in Albertson’s intentions.

But Albertson’s intentions have not changed. They continue to belittle public schools (recall an advertisement in which a public school bus literally abandoned students in the middle of the desert) in an effort to promote charter schools.

However, Albertson has apparently realized Idahoans growing negative attitude toward the group. To combat this, Albertson finances a troop of secondary organizations to implement their agenda without putting their own name in the middle of it: Idaho Charter School Network, Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, BLUUM, and others are all entities funded and working in an effort with Albertson to achieve this goal.

I’m not being hyperbolic. BLUUM’s tax returns, for example, literally state that, “BLUUM assists the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation where to make education investments that will result in higher performing seats in Idaho.”

Albertson was reminded the hard way of the public’s lack of faith in the group when their offer to fund a study revamping Idaho’s education spending formula was rebuffed. The apparent conflict of interest was even too much for Idaho’s legislature to ignore. They declined Albertson’s offer and have been working without the interference of Albertson for the past two years.

Or so it seemed. The reality is that dispatched one of its entities, BLUUM, to work behind the scenes.

In fact, as reported by IdahoEdNews, BLUUM even offered simulation software to the committee during the same meeting this year in which the legislators listened to Marguerette Rosa of the “Edunomics Lab” pitch a charter-friendly enrollment based funding model that it just so happens BLUUM is lobbying Idaho to adopt.

BLUUM’s CEO, Terry Ryan, hails from Ohio. During his tenure there, Ryan worked with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to promote charter-friendly laws in the Buckeye State. It worked. Perhaps too well.

The rampant corruption and ineptitude of Ohio’s charter schools have become the national template of “what not to do” in the school choice movement. The loose regulation and mismanagement of school choice in the Buckeye State is so blatantly obvious that Ohio Senator Sharrod Brown declared “Ohio’s charter school system has become a disgrace on our state that is denying too many students a quality education, and defrauding taxpayers.”

A large portion of this problem is the enrollment based funding that is now being peddled in Idaho’s statehouse. In Ohio, enrollment based funding resulted in thousands of so called “ghost students” who are enrolled in charter schools, but never actually attended. Unlike the current model of average daily attendance, in an enrollment based model the school continues to collect money for every student on the roster regardless of attendance.

In Ohio, the result is millions of tax dollars spent on fraud. In fact, in June of this year the Ohio Board of Education voted to force a single online charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), to repay an astonishing 60 million dollars for enrolling fake ghost students.

And that is precisely the type of funding model that our legislature is being pitched to adopt. Behind the smoke in mirrors is reality: A group funded by Albertson continues to have an outsize influence at the Capitol Building, and that influence may very well result in Ohio’s current state of affairs coming soon to an Idaho charter school near you.

Only a few great teachers?

Levi B Cavener is a special education teacher living in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org.

Idaho’s State Board of Education finally released their recommendations for determining Jedi quality master teachers last week. The report concludes that only 374 teachers in Idaho will qualify for the Master Educator distinction out of an eligible pool of 18,710 educators in Idaho.

This outcome seems to be an outright contradiction to the original intention of establishing a master teacher program which was designed to push many veteran educators closer to the original top salary level proposed during the tiered licensure debate. In fact, the requirements to receive the Jedi distinction from padawan colleagues is so onerous that the truly excellent teachers will likely spend their already strapped time on their classroom instead of completing yet another pile of paperwork mandated by the state.

The report issued by the State Board of Ed requires that educators seeking their black-belt to develop a comprehensive portfolio which includes artifacts, a narrative explaining each artifact, and tedious explanations of how each artifact is tied to a plethora of categories in the evaluation rubric.

In fact, the framework supplied by the state from the portfolio cover page to the rubric for the last standard is an overwhelming 26 pages all by itself. That is 26 blank pages already without the teacher’s artifacts, writeup of each artifact, narrative of how each artifact ties to specific standards, etc. Teacher portfolios will resemble the bricks of paper known as closing documents when purchasing a home by the time they are completed.

Which completely defeats the point. The purpose of this master educator program was to reward teachers for the excellent work many educators are already performing in the state. It was not designed to punitively punish educators who already put every spare moment of their time into their classrooms. The application process, however, wants another pound of flesh from teachers already worked to the bone.

The payout for countless hours putting together the comprehensive portfolio that an educator might be eligible to receive after investing significant time that would have been better utilized in professional development or curriculum planning? $4,000.

That’s not an insignificant sum. But it’s not a guaranteed payout either. And for educators looking to increase their compensation it is much more likely they will take a summer or part-time gig of guaranteed wages rather than tempting fate with mountains of paperwork for a check that they might be found eligible for.

Most teachers I talk to about the criteria are so frustrated and angry about the significant requirements that they have already stated their intention to not develop a portfolio or apply for the distinction. That, unfortunately, includes the bulk of educators I would truly call Jedi Master quality teachers.

It appears that the intent in developing this onerous process was precisely to deter eligible candidates from applying. Out of an eligible pool 18,710 candidates the report forecasts that just 374 educators, or an astonishingly small 2% of the population, will qualify for this distinction. That shockingly small number comes from a deliberate calculation to make the process so overwhelming as to hang up a sign that reads “need not apply” for the bulk of Idaho’s teachers.

So congratulations educators in Idaho. The State Board thinks that only 2% of you are excellent enough to receive your Jedi distinction. Clearly, this is yet another reason why qualified talent is moving in droves to teach the children in the Gem State.

Oh wait...

Clean bills, and other things

A guest opinion from Craig Gehrke of The Wilderness Society, in Boise.

Upon its return from the Easter recess Congress has only until April 28 to finally pass a federal budget bill for the remainder of this fiscal year – 5 months - and avoid another government shutdown.

One of the surest ways to pass a budget bill is to keep it “clean,” i.e. no unrelated policy “riders” that have nothing to do with the budget but are generally too unpopular to pass on their own. Too often Congress loads up “must pass” legislation like budget bills to get their own controversial proposals enacted.

For example:

Yet again, extremists are trying to tear down the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the president to designate national monuments. This law has enjoyed bipartisan support and a century-long record of success. A rider (Sec. 453) would make it harder for communities to collaborate and ask the president to protect places they care about.

One rider (Sec. 122) would force the construction of an unnecessary road through designated wilderness in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, damaging the heart of globally significant wildlife habitat and undermining the Wilderness Act. This project has been rejected by Congress and the courts multiple times, and would set a dangerous precedent.

Riders are inappropriate on spending legislation and have no place in a must pass funding bill to keep our government running. Republicans control Congress and the White House - they could move these policies through regular order if they wanted to. Allowing for public debate on these policies is the responsible thing to do. The fact that they are trying to sneak these damaging policies through as riders on must pass appropriations legislation shows how unpopular they are on both sides of the aisle.

Idaho cannot endure another government shutdown this spring, which would idle employees of the U.S. Forest Service. There are already scores of landslides and road failures across Idaho’s national forests, bleeding mud into Idaho’s rivers and blocking recreationists. And its only April. Across much of Idaho, record-setting snowpack will be melting over the coming weeks, compounding the problems with road failures. We need the Forest Service on the job to jump on these landslides to clear them, protect fish habitat and restore recreational access to the national forests. Without the Forest Service on the job to deal with landslides as they happen, there’s a good chance the sheer number will prove overpowering and popular backcountry roads will be closed for the upcoming recreational season.

Case in point: the Forest Service has counted over 60 snow slides along the Selway Road (#6223), the sole access for recreationists floating the renowned Selway River. While the agency won’t know the extent of road damage caused by the avalanches until they melt, you can bet debris removal will be a major undertaking. The Forest Service shouldn’t be kept off the job, victims of petty political maneuvering in Washington D.C.

We hope that Congressman Simpson and Senators Crapo and Risch will advocate for passing a clean budget bill. And we hope they oppose including damaging anti-conservation riders, which have no place in must-pass spending legislation and undermine the budget-setting process.

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.”

Reading: The elections aren’t rigged

A commentary from Kim Wyman, the Republican secretary of state in Washington.

In recent days, we have heard heated campaign rhetoric about American elections being “rigged” and somehow predetermined. This kind of baseless accusation is irresponsible and threatens to undermine voter confidence on this most basic foundation of democracy.

As a 24-year election administrator at the state and local level, with close relationships with the national elections community, federal security experts and independent academics, I have full and complete confidence in our system. Every eligible ballot will be handled securely and will be tabulated carefully and accurately.

As ballots go out this week, I am pleased to note that our paper-based system creates an audit trail. Our state registration system remains cybersecure and our tabulation systems in the counties are air-gapped and not connected to the Internet. We have multiple layers of security, both physical and electronic.

Voter fraud in the United States is considered extraordinary unlikely by experts. The voting system is highly decentralized, with each state, red, blue and purple, running their own elections with a total of over 9,000 election professionals who are directly accountable to elected or appointed officials. The culture is that professionals leave their personal politics at the door and treat every ballot with integrity.

This is quite true of our 39 tireless county auditors and election directors. Our counties operate with full transparency and welcome observers, some even using live webcams to show ballot processing.

It makes no sense that election managers would somehow indulge in a conspiracy across party lines and state lines.

As with concerns about cybersecurity, Washington remains vigilant to any possible voter fraud.

Voters should have trust in our elections system. My hope is that every registered voter will confidently cast their ballot. We will ensure their ballot is tabulated just as they cast it. There will be no rigging on our watch.

Charter cronyism?

A guest opinion from Levi B. Cavener, a teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org where an expanded version of this essay with primary sources is available.

In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State's education world including the multimillion 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 …

Corporate taxes down?

From a report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

As Oregonians mull raising taxes on large corporations this November, a new study finds that Oregon corporate taxes -- both income and property taxes -- have fallen dramatically over recent decades. The report released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy attributes the decline to the various ways corporations have "gamed the tax system."

"Thriving communities depend on having well-funded schools and other public services that benefit everyone, not just the few," said Tyler Mac Innis, policy analyst at the Center. "Paying for those services becomes harder when corporations rig the tax system to shirk tax responsibilities."

In terms of income taxes, the corporate contribution has declined as a share of the Oregon economy, the report said. By that measure, the corporate income tax has sunk by more than half since the late 1970s.

The sharp decline is also evident when considering the share of all income taxes collected by Oregon that corporations pay, versus the share paid by individuals and families. The corporate share has fallen from 18.5 percent in the mid-1970s to 6.7 percent today.

"The decline in corporate income taxes has been no accident, but rather the result of corporations gaming the system," said Mac Innis. By "gaming," he referred to corporations lobbying for and winning tax subsidies and loopholes, pursuing aggressive tax sheltering strategies and utilizing new corporate forms largely exempt from corporate income taxes.

Along with the decline in income taxes, corporations have also enjoyed a reduction in their property taxes, the report found. Not only have they won tax subsidies that reduce their property tax obligations, corporations also benefitted greatly from seismic changes to Oregon's property tax system in the 1990s.

First came Measure 5, which slashed property taxes, including property taxes paid by corporations. Then came Measure 50, which locked in property taxes at a time when commercial property was inexpensive relative to residential property, according to the report.

"It's no surprise that Oregon ranks dead last -- the lowest business taxes among all states -- given how far corporate income and property taxes have fallen over the years," said Mac Innis. "We must increase corporate taxes if Oregon is to have the great schools and other public services that make our communities thrive."

In November, Oregon voters will decide whether to raise corporate income taxes. A measure on the ballot would establish a 2.5 percent tax based on the Oregon sales of C-corporations with sales that exceed $25 million. According to Oregon's Legislative Revenue Office, the measure would raise more than $6 billion each budget period, mainly from large, multi-state corporations headquartered outside Oregon.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.ocpp.org) is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax and economic issues. The Center's goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians. (image/DonkeyHotey)