Education: Funding based on test scores fails kids

Levi Cavener    [Published in the Idaho-Press Tribune on July 21, 2014]

National Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to tie test scores for special education students to the amount of money a state receives from the federal government for reimbursement of special education services. States that send back high test scores for special education students will get more money; those with lower scores will get less or even no money. Surely this will improve student learning, right?

Clearly, No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) emphasis on tying student test scores to federal money was a major success! Cloning NCLB tools for special education students sounds like a real winner.

Secretary Duncan argued, “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.”

If only teachers knew this was the magical brew to student success! Obviously teachers have never held special education students to a robust curriculum and high expectations, right? Secretary Duncan’s implication that special education and general education instructors do not already hold students to high standards is deeply offensive.

Let me be clear: I share Secretary Duncan’s belief that all students, special education students included, can make progress toward their academic goals. However, special education students, by definition, have a disability which adversely affects successful academic progress in comparison to typical students. If these students could progress at the rate of their peers, they would not need for special education services.

This doesn’t mean that special educators and general education teachers lower our expectations for these students; on the contrary, we bend over backwards to accommodate for individual student needs and accelerate their learning to bridge the gap.

However, having high expectations also doesn’t mean that we expect a student reading at a first grade level to independently read Shakespeare’s Othello and write an analysis of racial connotations within the text. No, it means we instruct the student at a level that is challenging, but attainable.

Thus Secretary Duncan’s plan is the square root of stupid. Special education students are already being monitored for growth of their IEP goals on an individual level; emphasis on growth, not a set proficiency score, a much more logical way to monitor achievement for all students. .

Tying federal dollars to these scores is reckless. How does withholding dollars for special education services improve student learning? Does anyone believe that more learning will take place with less qualified teachers and reduced budgets? Perhaps districts’ inability to order new curriculum materials will accelerate student learning? Surely students will enjoy yet another high stakes standardized test!

We have already seen the devastating impact NCLB’s policy of withholding dollars to the neediest schools. Educators have firsthand witnessed the horrors associated with being in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) jail.

Schools with the most challenging populations, schools are financially abandoned.

Data demonstrating a total failure in tying dollars to high stakes tests isn’t anything new or particularly shocking. Indeed, the respected Cato Institute reported in 2007 that NCLB’s strategy was a total bust. NCLB is such a colossal failure that the federal government has resorted to giving out waivers to individual states because congress has refused to rewrite the law.

Yet, despite study after study confirming these findings, somehow Mr. Duncan continues to believe this strategy will work for Special Education students. What was it Einstein said about the definition of insanity?

This policy has no place in our nation’s schools. It puts our most vulnerable students in the cross-hairs of political brinkmanship. These students deserve better, much better.

Idaho Politics: Some were giants

Judy Ferro     [Published by the Idaho Press-Tribune on July 14]

Last week Marc Johnson posted a memorable tribute to former Governor John V. Evans, who died July 8 at the age of 89.  Johnson was a producer and television host at Idaho Public Television during Evan’s 1976 to 1986 tenure.

“Evans took the small town qualities that make a mayor successful – attention to detail, remembering people’s names and needs, and a focus on practical and common sense solutions – and created ten productive years in the Idaho Statehouse. He should be remembered as one of Idaho’s best governors and, moreover, as a very nice and very decent fellow.”

Among the Evans’ accomplishments Johnson includes beginning adjudication of the Snake River water rights, battling the aftermath of the Mount Helena eruption, and ending INEL’s injection of process water into the Snake River aquifer.

Johnson’s description of Evans’ handling of the economic downturn of the late 1970s and early 1980s made me yearn for leaders like Evans today.

“Three times he worked magic…to prevent the kind of broad scale damage to education that we have seen in more recent difficult economic times.”

Earlier, in a column on Idaho Democrats who came to power due to Republican failures, Randy Stapilus mentioned other Idaho greats like Frank Church, Cecil Andrus, and Marilyn Howard

Just reading the names, I get a chill—followed by the urge to roar, “We Democrats have given you giants.  Now give us respect.”

During Frank Church’s 24 years in the U.S. Senate, he became a noted liberal on the national stage.  He fought for U.S. withdrawal from the Viet Nam War, supported the Civil Rights Act, and warned of government spying abroad and at home.

“If this government ever became a tyrant…the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together…no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know.”

Although Cecil Andrus is now 83, many believe he could still win a statewide election.  His intelligence and humor disarm opponents.  I imagine him dealing with a legislative uber-conservative by saying, “OK, that’s what you feel you have to say, but what is it you hope to get right now?”  His genius was working out a compromise that both sides regarded as the best they were going to get.

Andrus is an outdoorsman and conservationist dedicated to seeing that our forests and lakes will be here for our children and grandchildren.  He served as Idaho’s governor from 1971 to 1977, as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1977-1981, and as governor again 1987 to 1995.

A truly great man, Andrus puts others at ease.  I talk with him and come away feeling somehow brighter and more capable.

The first time I heard Marilyn Howard speak she convinced me she understood where education had to go and the details that made change both necessary and difficult.  During her tenure, she respected and supported teachers even as she pushed for new tactics and resolve.  Her mantra was, “If it was easy, we’d have done it already.”

Many potential greats never got the chance to serve Idaho because voters didn’t respect the “D” after their names.  These were strong men and women committed to solving problems and making Idaho a great place for all her citizens.  They were dedicated to making Idaho’s economy, communities, and families stronger.

Please take the time to know the Democrats on your ballot this November—Mitchell, Ringo, Balukoff, Marley, Silver, Woodings, Bistline and Jones.  You will find potential greats

Politics: Meet your candidates

by Judy Ferro

I’ve actually had two voters—both professional women—tell me they had never met a candidate before.

Both times I wanted to come up with a funny line. Maybe, “You mean today, right? You haven’t met one yet today?” Or “Funny, you look pretty normal.”

What I did say was simply, “Meeting candidates isn’t difficult–they work pretty hard at meeting you.”

I’m hoping that you all met a few candidates over the Fourth of July weekend. They were in parades, at booths, on stages—and one or two might have found your favorite lake or fishing hole. You can even find candidates in your own backyard. When Dan Romero was running, his granddaughter—about six years old—visited every Fourth of July barbecue in the neighborhood and came back with three invitations for grandpa to “meet and greet.”

Campaigns may seem low-key from now until the yard signs come out after Labor Day, but the candidates are out there talking with voters. For instance, yesterday Shirley Ringo, former state senator and current candidate for the U.S. House, joined district 12 senate candidate Heidi Knittel in talking with folks at Nampa’s Messenger Pizza.

Gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff has invited Facebook fans to a conference call Tuesday from 6 to 7.

Wednesday District 10 candidates Travis Manning and Leif Skyving are teaming up for a meet-and-greet at the Bird Stop Coffee House, 718 Arthur, Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

And those attending the Canyon County Democrats’ fundraiser Saturday will get some one-on-one time with a number of legislative and state candidates. The picnic at the home of Les and Mary Peck starts at 5 p.m. and includes a barbecued pork dinner and live auction. (Call 454-8742 for information.)

In coming weeks you may chat with candidates at the Canyon County Fair or while waiting in line at a rodeo breakfast. Expect to find them cooking hamburgers and hot dogs at Labor Day celebrations and helping out at Caldwell’s Indian Creek Festival.

And don’t be surprised if one or two show up at your door.

Do meet the candidates. Voting for one you haven’t talked with is a like buying clothes from a catalog—sometimes you get what you wanted; other times the fabric is too flimsy or the color all wrong. You can’t tell everything from one or two visits, but you can get a better idea than from a web page or flyer.

Arrogance and a patronizing manner are real turn-offs.

No candidate should simply recite portions of the campaign speech when talking to you. The speech has to be fairly canned—the candidate wants a clear message—but be wary if he or she doesn’t listen and respond to questions.

You want a candidate who looks at problems honestly and discusses nuances. Few issues are good versus evil; many are good versus good.   Understanding the balance can be more important than agreeing with you 100%.

And I personally look for candidates with a sense of humor who don’t take themselves too seriously.

Most important, expect a candidate to be truthful. When my nephew asked one state senator why a bill hadn’t passed, he blamed the Democrats for killing it. Andy was quick to reply, “All four of them or a particular one?” (Yes, we were down to four Democratic state senators at one point.)

And logical. Cutting spending doesn’t increase jobs and making contraceptives less available doesn’t cut abortions.

Be a good citizen and give candidates the courtesy of a job interview. Idaho deserves the best.

Idaho politics: Voters support Dems on issues

Judy Ferro     [Published by the Idaho Press-Tribune June 30, 2014]

Enough.  We’ve heard the message.  Political pundits in four states have echoed it.  “The Idaho Republicans may be at war with one another, but the Democrats can’t win.”   Sometimes they add, “because of Idaho’s demographics.”

Predicting Republican victories at this point tends to suppress voter turnout.  Why bother learning about the candidates if my vote will make no difference?  Three decades of Republican victories probably explains why nearly half the county’s adults are not registered.

And no pundit explains what demographics they mean.  Perhaps all the young people leaving the state?   Or all the people working for minimum wage?   Or maybe just the fact there are more registered Republicans?

Over half the voters in Canyon County have locked themselves out of the Republican primaries by registering as “unaffiliated.”  Now, some of these are Democrats who don’t want to be hasseled over their politics.  Still, independents—those who vote for the man/woman, not the party—are by far the largest voting bloc in the county.

So why have Republicans consistently won?

Thinking it was issues, Idaho Democrats once tried a slate of “Republican-lite” candidates.  Some, like Walt Minnick, were liberal on social issues and conservative on economic ones.  Others were conservative on social issues and middle-of-the-road on economic ones.  Walt did win—once.  Overall, though, the tactic undercut Democratic support without attracting many Independents.

And why should it?  There is every reason to believe that voters, even Idaho voters, agree with the Democrats on their defining issues.

A recent Russell Sage Foundation study of polls found that 90% of Americans do not want to see social security cut.

Over 80% want the government to fund schools well and to protect the jobs of American workers.

Nearly 80% want the minimum wage high enough so that one full-time worker worker can keep a family above the poverty level.  About the same number want college to be affordable for everyone.

Nearly 70% are against cutting domestic programs like Medicare, education and highways in order to lower the Federal deficit.

Even federal health care is supported by 60%.

These are the defining Democratic issues.  If they were what really counted with voters, Democrats would be winning handily.

What about the emotional “wedge issues?”  Nationally, voters are more evenly divided on these issues.  Yet, polls indicate 80% of Americans want background checks on all gun purchases and 55% support limiting gun clips to 10 bullets.    Amazingly, only 20% oppose abortions in all circumstances (even though 50% believe they are morally wrong).   Support for gay marriage runs about 55%.

Idaho Democrats are divided on these issues; Republicans are not.  At a meeting of Canyon County’s Republicans prior to the primaries, each candidate stood and recited a mantra—I am pro-life, pro-second amendment, and pro-traditional marriage—before stating his or her other qualifications.  So it’s no surprise that people who care more about guns than schools vote Republican.  But it’s hard to believe that includes a majority of Canyon County.

There are many other explanations for continued Republican victories.  Loyalty, for one.  Many who recognize that the Republican Party has lost its balance choose to work to moderate the party.  Others simply like to identify with the winning side: a Boise district that was all-Republican for many years is now so Democratic that no Republicans are even running there this year.

Whatever the reason, it is not the quality of Idaho’s Democratic candidates.  Democrats run here because they care about people and want to strengthen jobs, schools, families, and communities.  It’s not an easy road to power; they don’t “inherit” victory from predecessors or fathers.  They are heroes in a battle for balance and democracy in Idaho.

Idaho politics: Republicans fight one another

Judy Ferro     [Published in the Idaho Press-Tribune on June 23, 2014]

No one should vote Republican this year.  Okay, maybe if your son or daughter is running, but that’s the only excuse.  I wouldn’t vote for my own brother this year.

I know, when the Republican politicians shoot themselves in the foot. Democrats should stay out of range—but it’s time to warn everyone to keep their distance.

Face it, when people turn against others who agree with them 95% of the time, they don’t understand the basics of leadership in a democracy.   I doubt many delegates to the recent Republican convention have even heard of their party’s Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”   There was a 1000-word resolution (at least it seemed that long—it seems to have disappeared from the Internet) calling for Republicans to eject Patti Lodge from the Senate for failing to reside in District 11 during the past three years.  It was defeated—the Republicans did tend to some business—but somebody was willing to hand Democrats that kind of ammunition prior to the general election.

Media reports indicate that the Republican convention fell apart because the uber-conservatives in charge sought to reject establishment conservatives’ delegations from Ada, Bannock and Power counties.

The 245-170 vote against Bannock County’s delegates would indicate that the “tin-foil hats,” as one Ada delegate termed them, outnumbered the real conservatives pretty heavily in the remaining 41 counties.

An article by credentials committee member Brent Regan presents a different view—Ada, Bannock, and Power counties failed to hold legal elections.  One only missed the time period, but a petition from more than 70 Ada County Republicans claimed that the new Ada County chair, Fred Tilman, presented a list of delegates and alternates at the re-org meeting and did not accept any nominations from the floor.  Many of those listed—and elected– were not even in attendance.

Regan doesn’t describe “tin-foil” hats against true conservatives, but supporters of honest elections against Otter cronies.   Of course, Regan is an uber-conservative who serves on the board of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and has spoken at Tea Party conventions, but he presents a good argument that the Otter faction resorted to illegal tactics.

All this is just the preface to the battle of the lawyers.  Rep. Raul Labrador told the convention that the current officers, including chair Barry Peterson, will hold their seats for another two years.  Lawyers for both the Idaho and National Republicans have disagreed and said that Peterson’s term of office ended June 14.  Peterson has countered with an opinion from former attorney general candidate Chris Troupis that claims Peterson is still chairman.

Some Republicans seem to like paying lawyers.

Personally, I’m hoping someone will explain why supposed economic conservatives paid $18,000 to rent the 7,000-seat Kibbie Dome for a convention of 500 delegates.   The money didn’t even go to any of their favorite campaign contributors.  Maybe they figured the vast space would make it possible to “divide and conquer?”  Or did they fear delegates would come to blows in a tighter space?

Last week Randy Stapilus pointed out that Democrats have fielded some very good candidates and campaigns during the last twenty years without breaking the Republican stranglehold on legislative and state offices.  “Idaho Democrats…need to talk about what’s holding them back — what keeps a large segment of Idaho voters from crossing over and giving their stronger candidates a chance… and what’s keeping many prospective voters for Democrats from participating at all…”

I’m glad he didn’t suggest we look to Idaho Republicans as role models.  The Democratic candidates I know would need personality transplants to be that  power hungry and self-centered