Sunday, July 30, 2017


Researchers from Portland State University Center for Public Service contacted District officials last year and asked us to participate in a study of  Total Employer Cost of Compensation (TECC). We were curious about how Boise's salaries and benefits stacked up against other northwest districts, and agreed to participate. The participating districts were Seattle and Vancouver in Washington , Portland, Salem - Keizer, Lake Oswego, Beaverton, and Hillsboro in Oregon, and Boise. The Center for Public Service used the study to test their methodology in calculating total staffing costs in districts, using data from the 2015-16 school year.

We have summarized a few of the study's findings in several charts. Let's have a look at what Portland State's team found about salaries and Total Cost of Compensation.

Annual Salaries

The Portland State staff did not look at average salaries among teachers in each district; instead, they examined salaries for placement at certain points along the salary schedule in each district. We've included their data for six of the eight districts, leaving out Hillsboro and Lake Oswego.

Here's what the researchers found about first year placement in each of the districts - that's placement for a new teacher with only a Bachelor's degree in 2015-16.

Seattle's entry level placement was by far the highest among the districts included herein. Otherwise, Portland, Salem and Beaverton were in the high 30k range, and Boise and Vancouver in the mid 30's.

It's important to note here that, according to Sperling and other estimates of cost of living differences, Boise has the lowest cost of any of the cities included in the study. In Sperling's analysis, the other areas are this much more expensive than Boise: Salem +5%, Vancouver +11%, Beaverton +29%, Portland +37%, and Seattle +72%. We also understand that many teachers in these districts (and in Boise) may not live in the district in which they teach. Cost of housing is the most differentiated cost among the cities; for example, the cost of housing in Seattle is 189% higher than that of Boise, on average.

At the Master's degree level with 10 years experience, the gap widened between Boise and Vancouver and the other districts in the study. For example, while Boise's entry level salary was 7% lower than that of Portland, at this mid-career level it was 20% lower.

For the MA Plus and 30 years category, the Portland State researchers used the highest salary on the schedule, exclusive of any PhD category the district might have included on its schedule.

The Portland State researchers noted: "Between the 10th and 30th years of service, teachers who earn additional graduate credits and reach the top step (short of a PhD) see comparatively similar rises in base salary. The two steepest differences – about 40% – between Mid-career and Latter-stage salary, based on the current salary schedules, are found in Seattle and Vancouver. The other five districts generally show about a 30% change in salary between these two milestones..." 

Total Cost of Compensation

In calculating Total Cost of Compensation (TECC), the researchers looked at a number of categories the most important of which were:

  • Base salaries
  • Employer Paid Health Insurance Costs
  • Retirement Related Costs Borne by the District
  • The Value of Paid Time Off
Here are the data presented in the study in terms of TECC for MA Pus 30 year employees by district:

So, for example, while Portland paid teacher salaries at the MA Plus level and 30 years of about 14% higher than Boise, the Total Cost of Compensation for this category in Portland was about 30% higher.

Why the dramatic difference? Health insurance and retirement costs are much higher for the Portland District. In 2015-16, Portland's cost for employee health insurance for MA Plus 30 year teachers was $16,385 per teacher, while for the Boise District it was $7,320. As for retirement, in Portland it was $15,921 while in Boise it was $11,946. In fact, Boise's costs for all categories for these veteran teachers were less than any other district in the study, except for Vancouver, where the base salary was slightly higher for Boise teachers (see page 11 of the study).

The most demographically similar district to Boise in the study was Vancouver, Washington which has about the same number of students, and similar poverty percentages among its student population. However, Vancouver has about 250 fewer teachers, and substantially higher class sizes than Boise.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Even though school's out and it's the middle of summer (and so hot!), there's still some interesting research on which we can report...

"Students' Test Scores tell us more about the Community they Live in than what they Know"

In Phys.Org, Andrew Tienken writes about the relationship between test scores and poverty, and cites studies indicating the strength of the relationship:

"We decided to see if we could predict standardized test scores based on demographic factors related to the community where a student lived. By looking at three to five community and family demographic variables from U.S. Census data, we have been able to accurately predict the percentages of students who score proficient or above on standardized test scores for grades three through 12. These predictions are made without looking at school district data factors such as school size, teacher experience or per pupil spending."

And, on the measures of year-to-year "growth" which will be used to judge schools in Idaho on the SBAC:

"Though some proponents of standardized assessment claim that scores can be used to measure improvement, we've found that there's simply too much noise. Changes in test scores from year to year can be attributed to normal growth over the school year, whether the student had a bad day or feels sick or tired, computer malfunctions, or other unrelated factors."

Since, as Tienken says, standardized tests are used for everything from grade-to grade promotion, high school graduation decisions, evaluation of teachers and administrators, and decisions about tenure, Tienken concludes:

"If these standardized test results can be predicted with a high level of accuracy by community and family factors, it would have major policy implications. In my opinion, it suggests we should jettison the entire policy foundation that uses such test results to make important decisions about school personnel and students. After all, these factors are outside the control of students and school personnel."

We've been railing against these measures, especially the SBAC and PARCC, and the obsession with testing students every year, for a while now. When the evidence tells us conclusively that they are just a reflection of poverty, shouldn't we consider something different?

And this leads us to one of  Tienken's final statements:

"Although some might not want to accept it, over time, assessments made by teachers are better indicators of student achievement than standardized tests. For example, high  GPA, which is based on classroom assessments, is a better predictor of student success in the first year of college than the SAT."

This article in The Atlantic provides a glimpse into the phenomenon of the startling decrease in the percentage of teens working summer jobs - down from 60% in 1978 to 35% last summer.  The author, Derek Thompson, writes:

"A better answer (than laziness) is that teenagers aren’t spending more time on the couch, but rather spending more time in the classroom. Education is to blame, rather than indolence. Teens are remaining in high school longer, going to college more often, and taking more summer classes."

Of course, the trend of going to college more often doesn't apply to Idaho high school grads, but the national evidence is interesting. Thompson provides plenty of charts and graphs to illustrate his points, and looks at several reasons for the decline in teen summer jobs.

Russ on Reading  is a popular blog written by Russ Walsh, a literacy expert and educator from  Pennsylvania. As he writes on his title page, his blog exists for the purposes of  "discussing sound literacy instruction, supporting teachers and defending public education"

In this post, Walsh examines two studies, one that argues for more academics in pre-school, and another that states that the purpose of pre-school is to "promote school readiness, preschools need to focus strategically on social-emotional development."

Walsh writes about the balance that must be achieved between structured play and academics (not dissimilar to the old phonics/sight vocabulary discussion in reading instruction) in the appropriate pre-school environment, and quotes a statement from the first study that gets to the heart of the issue:

"Indeed, as publicly funded pre-K expands, the division may be not between academics and play, but between programs with well-trained and well-paid teachers and those without."

Luckily, we have two of the most qualified, well-trained preschool teachers in the state in the Whitney and Hawthorne pre-k programs. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


In an Idaho Ed News article ("Idaho Charter Schools Underserve Minority and Poor Populations", by Devin Bodkin) last week, the Executive Director of Bluum, an organization devoted to promoting charter schools, had this quote:

“While charters aren’t as diverse as state averages, they are more diverse than the West Ada School district on average and are darn close to Boise district averages.” 

Comparing the state charter average for free and reduced lunch with that of the Boise District is, well, apples and oranges. The real question is whether the charters in the school district, two of which purport to have the same boundaries as the entire district, serve student populations similar to that of the District. 

In Boise's case there are 3 charters whose data we can analyze - Sage, ANSER, and the Village. 

ANSER and Sage have in their charter applications declared their boundaries to be the same as the Boise District. ANSER serves students in grades k-8, and Sage is a k-12 school. To be more than fair, we will use the k-12 averages in the Boise District for comparison for these two schools, and we will look at percentages of free/reduced students, special education (SpEd) students, and Limited English (LEP) students.

The Village has defined their boundaries as roughly east of Eagle Road, south of Fairview Avenue, west of Latah Street (though the boundary is a little further east nearer to the airport), and south to the Boise and West Ada boundary lines. 

The Boise elementary schools within the Village boundary  are Owyhee (59% free and reduced lunch), Jefferson (82%), Hillcrest (74%), Maple Grove (29%), Amity (28%), and Grace Jordan (68%). There are also a number of West Ada schools - Desert Sage (60%) , Lake Hazel (31%), Silver Sage (39%), and parts of Pepper Ridge. (22%). We calculated an aggregate percentage for these schools to compare with the Village totals.

Here are the comparative numbers and percentages:

As reported in the Idaho Ed News articles, charters around the state often have much different demographics than their host districts, especially when it comes to free/reduced lunch percentages and Limited English populations. This applies to the Boise District and its charter schools, as well.

In December, 2015, we provided a comparison between SBAC proficiency percentages at The Village and Sage Charter Schools and demographically comparable schools in the Boise District, showing that the two charter schools achieved no better (and sometimes were much worse) than the comparable schools.

Since charter schools across the state are most often demographically much different from the Districts in their areas of service, and the situation appears not to be changing, these are the most appropriate achievement comparisons. Anser does this comparison with comparable schools annually in their report to the Boise District Board of Trustees Perhaps other charters should follow their lead.