Thursday, March 30, 2017


In 2015, the legislature approved funding for the first year of the Idaho Career Ladder. House Bill 296 was a monumental achievement, into which the state has allocated over $130 million fr teacher salaries through the 2017 session, as part of the Governor's plan for K-12 public education.

The Career Ladder legislation included some important departures from the old funding distribution formula that had been in place for some time.

It was important to legislators and the Governor to have some sort of accountability built into the process of distributing funds. Accordingly, the legislation included a requirement that a teacher receive a mark of "proficient" on his/her evaluation in order for increases in funding for his/her position to be distributed to the district. It's actually a whole lot more complicated than that, but for the purposes of this article, the above explanation will have to suffice.

One piece of the legislation that still is not well-understood is compensation for advanced degrees. School district salary schedules (and the state salary distribution formula) had long given credit for two factors which formed the salary matrix - experience (years served) and education (credits earned in continuing education coursework).

The distribution formula prior to 2015-16 did not have a "Master's barrier", except at the very end of the schedule (Master's degree +36 credits or Ed Specialist or Doctorate). In other words, funds were distributed to districts based on credits earned by teachers beyond the Bachelor's degree, but not for achievement of a degree. So a teacher might have a Bachelor's degree and 36 credits, but the distribution formula rewarded the district the same amount for that teacher as for one who had earned a Master's degree. Thus, incentives for teachers to earn a Master's Degree came at the local district level, if at all.

The vast majority of districts mimicked the state distribution formula for their salary schedules, and allowed teachers to accumulate credits beyond the Bachelor's degree in order to get raises. In 2014-15, we found only a few that had a built-in Master's barrier; Moscow, Boise, Lapwai, and Avery (a tiny northern Idaho district with only 2 teachers).

As examples, here are the 2014-15 schedules from Moscow and Post Falls:

Note that Moscow's schedule required that teachers have a Master's degree to advance beyond lane 4...

while Post Falls' schedule allowed teachers to accumulate credits or get a Master's degree.

The introduction of the Career Ladder changed the advanced degree landscape. The original version of the bill had no education increments at all, and was based purely on evaluation proficiency and years of service.  But the final Career Ladder bill contained phased-in rewards for two levels of continuing education - Bachelor's degree + 24 credits and Master's degree. For these two levels of education, the distribution to districts (not cumulative) are/will be:

Since the law rewarded districts for all teachers who had reached the BA +24 credits or had attained a Master's degree, districts were faced with a choice - use the money as a pass-through (award it directly to teachers who had attained these levels) or add a barrier for the Master's degree.

In Boise, we argued that our salary schedule already had lanes that rewarded teachers for continuing education, and simply added the money to the salary negotiations process. Other districts decided to give the funds directly to teachers who had reached the level (even though those that had reached the BA +24 level had already earned increments on the schedule). Here's our 2015-16 schedule:

We were curious, though, as to the status of districts around the state. What percentage of district certified staffs have a Master's degree?  Here's the answer for districts with over 100 FTE (full-time equivalent positions):

There are additional districts in the count - we just decided to report the top 20 or so. For the record, the lowest percentages of master's degrees among larger districts are in Fruitland and Mountain Home, both of which have 16%. And those two other districts we mentioned before - well, 47% of Lapwai's certified staff have a Master's degree, as do both of Avery's staff members.

Now, whether or not a Master's degree makes a difference in instructional expertise is up for debate - there's not much research supporting a correlation. However, we believe that teachers who achieve an advanced degree bring more expertise to their teaching than do those who just accumulate credits. And the state of Idaho has valued the Master's degree in their reimbursement of districts in the Career Ladder.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


District officials spend a great deal of time poring over data related to student achievement, class size, proposed legislation, funding, negotiations, and any number of other topics. We take our research seriously. So when an op-ed  that ran in the Idaho Statesman last Saturday misrepresented facts about the District, we researched the issues to provide accurate data.

Here are some facts about Boise District enrollment.

We have records of Boise District enrollment back to the 1920's and 1930's; we can see when particular schools were opened and closed, when other school districts opted to join the district, and when grade organization patterns changed in the District.

We analyze District enrollment using a particular enrollment report each year - typically it's the October report - so we have consistent year-to-year number on which we can focus. Here are the District's October enrollment figures for the past 10 years.

District enrollment has increased by about 1200 students in 10 years; slow, steady growth compared with our neighbors to the west. When the author of the op-ed writes "The district’s student population is shrinking", his statement is simply not true.

About 18 months ago, the District hired DeJong-Richter, a nationally renowned school facilities audit group, to perform a study of Boise's facilities. One of the tasks they performed as part of the audit was a projection of future student enrollment.

The DeJong "moderate" enrollment projection report actually shows the growth slowing, followed by a period of slow decline. What the DeJong report does not include is the emergence of Syringa Valley, currently beginning development east of Cole Road and south of Orchard Street. Permits for the development had not been issued at the time of the study, but DeJong estimates that the development will yield about 1,400 students over time, all of which will be within the Timberline High School boundary. 

Additionally, it's important to understand that growth in student enrollment is always uneven. In Boise, the fastest growth thus far has been in southeast Boise - a drive out to the Harris Ranch area will reveal the rapid transformation of the area.

At the secondary level (junior high and high school) there's actually been strong growth in each school's enrollment. Here's what's happened since a 2008 boundary change gave each District high school 2 feeder junior highs.

The three junior highs that were under-enrolled a few years ago are now growing at a rapid clip. Hillside has been rediscovered by North End parents and students. Les Bois and East still have some room, but with the emergence of Syringa Valley, and growth in southeast Boise, they won't for long. 

So, when the op-ed author wrote "I wonder how much it would cost to move a few lines on a map?", he's not accounting for the future growth in south Boise, or even for the current growth in southeast Boise. It would be unwise to draw new boundaries at the junior high level, only to have to change them again in a couple of years. 

And what the op-ed author completely omitted in "doing his research" is that Timberline (built for 1150 students in 1998) will be affected greatly by the growth in student enrollment. In 3 years, the school will have at least 1350 students, and it's likely to have even more students thereafter as the growth in south Boise takes off. Without relief in the form of additional space at Timberline (the addition proposed in the current bond issue), boundary changes at the high school level will likely be necessary. 

Boundary changes are typically painful exercises, but are often necessary to ameliorate student population growth in one part of a district. The problem with the changes that may be necessary to relieve the growth at Timberline is that both Boise and Borah High Schools are at capacity. Capital is the high school which has some room. So such a change would likely involve changes in the boundaries of all 4 comprehensive high schools.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Two recent articles in The Upshot, the New York Times research journal, cast extensive doubt on the advisability of vouchers in public schools. Both were written by Kevin Carey.

The first, entitled Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers As Devos Era Begins, recounts the results of three major voucher studies conducted in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio in the past several years. All three studies found that students transferring to private schools through voucher programs lost ground in achievement.

In Indiana, as part of a voucher program that enrolled tens of thousands of students while Mike Pence was governor, researchers found that " “In mathematics, voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” The researchers also saw no improvement in reading.

Then, a few months after the release of the first study, researchers studying the Louisiana voucher program found that "Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year."

The third voucher study was conducted by the Thomas Fordham Foundation, and focused on a voucher program in Ohio. The findings, from a conservative think tank that has promoted school choice, "“Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

As Carey writes, "But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say."

The second Carey article is entitled DeVos and Tax Credit Vouchers: Arizona Shows What Can Go Wrong. This one is about State Tax Credit Voucher Programs, which have been proposed several times in Idaho, including in this legislative session.

Tax credit vouchers are a way to get around the Blaine Amendment church/state separation laws in state constitutions. 

As Mr. Carey explains, "State tax credit voucher programs have grown rapidly in recent years. The number of students receiving them increased to 256,000 this year, from about 50,000 in 2005. Arizona has one of the oldest and largest programs. It allows taxpayers who donate money to nonprofit voucher-granting organizations to claim a 100 percent, dollar-for-dollar credit against their state taxes (up to a certain limit). In other words, if a married couple donates $1,000 to a voucher-granting nonprofit, their tax bill is reduced by $1,000. The nonprofit then gives the money to families who use it to pay tuition at private schools."

If you have not yet read these two articles, we encourage you to take a look. Together, they form a nice primer on the origination and current status of voucher and tax credit programs.