Friday, June 19, 2015


Idaho Ed News recently published a report on teacher evaluations and the “flawed” data reported to the state. In the Boise School District, evaluations are not used to rank teachers by arbitrary labels; instead, they are used as tools to improve instruction and to determine whether or not teachers will be retained. In order to provide more insight into evaluation and supervision of educators in the Boise District, we've developed a brief summary of our process.

Idaho has a teacher contract system which encourages Districts to make decisions about teacher retention during the first three years of employment. These processes and types of contracts are detailed in Idaho Code 33-514 and 33-514A. Here are the relevant sections of Code:

Idaho Code 33-514 establishes the types of contracts offered to teachers in their first three years of employment with a school district:

  1. Category 1 is a limited one-year contract, specifically offered for the ensuing year. The local school board may terminate the contract at the end of the year with a letter to the teacher.
  2. Category 2 is for teachers in the first or second year of employment. The Board may choose not to reemploy the teacher at the end of the school year, and must provide a statement of reasons for termination. 
  3. Category 3 is for teachers in the third year of continuous employment with the district. If the employee's work is found to be unsatisfactory, a period of probation not less than 8 weeks must be provided, after which the Board may decide to retain, discharge immediately, or discharge the employee at the end of the contract. 
The Boise District has a comprehensive induction program for employees in their first 3 years of employment with the district. The program is  geared toward improvement of instruction, dealing with student behavior issues, utilizing data, and other areas. Most employees are proficient after having the benefit of this professional development.

The District assigns  peer assistants to all new-to-the-district employees, and provides  more intense peer assistance for new-to-the-profession employees.  The peer assistance program is also available for veteran employees who are underachieving or wish to improve their craft.

The Code provisions described above allow the District to counsel underachieving employees out of the profession within the first 3 years.  Typically, the contract of an employee who is judged to be "unsatisfactory" in even one subcategory of his/her evaluation will not be renewed, regardless of the overall evaluation rating.

Though the District works to improve performance of employees who are not meeting our standards, a number of contracts are "non-renewed" each school year. Of the 90-100 new-to-the district employees hired for a given year. 7-10% are typically "non-renewed".

Educators in their first 3 years of employment who receive "non-renewal" notices retain their licenses and are eligible to apply in other districts. Oftentimes, they may have been teaching at a grade level for which they were not optimally prepared, or they were not a good fit for a particular clientele. In any case, the non-renewed employee's evaluation is available to any district to which they apply.

We expect that teachers progressing to the 4th contract year are proficient in the execution of their duties; after all, the District has provided extensive training, support, and supervision for the employee. In a typical year, however, approximately 1.5% of "continuing contract" employees choose to resign or retire for personal reasons.

The Boise District has not used the "Distinguished" overall rating for teacher evaluation, because other avenues are available for teachers to demonstrate "distinguished" performance, including the National Board Certification process and the Leadership Awards program funded by the state of Idaho. Additionally, beginning in 2019, a "Master Teacher" Award program will be added, which will allow districts to create a local award for which teachers will be eligible to apply. 

Once the District decides to retain a teacher, our priority then becomes providing them with the training and tools they need to grow throughout their career. Through a host of programs, including peer assistance, mentoring and coaching, our focus on supervision is the best path to developing effective and engaging teachers. The results of these efforts are clear – a school district consistently considered one of the highest performing in the nation.

Unfortunately, beginning with the failed Students Come First legislation, many in the state have become as obsessed with teacher evaluations as they have standardized testing. In fact, both issues were raised during the debate over the new Career Ladder and the failed attempt at Tiered Licensure. While concessions were made to consider evaluations as a factor in statewide salary reimbursement, Boise Schools will continue to emphasize the day-to-day and year-to-year improvement of our teachers, not the snapshot one evaluation provides.

As Tim Corder, Special Assistant to State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, put it in an interview with KBOI Channel 2, "The reality is we have great teachers in Idaho...". We couldn't agree more.


Open Enrollment

Most Idaho school districts allow parents to enroll their students in a school within the district but outside of their designated  attendance area on a space available basis. In 2014-15  in the Boise District, for example, 2889 students (11.3% of total enrollment) were open-enrolled within the district. Reasons vary for open enrollment, from child care and proximity to parent's work to educational program.

Among elementary schools in the District, Owyhee, Washington, Whitney, and Monroe have the highest percentages of open enrollment, each with more than a third of their students open-enrolled from other areas of the District. Among secondary schools, East and Riverglen junior highs and Boise High School have more than 10% of their students open-enrolled from within the district.

In 2003, the Board of Trustees passed Policy 3113, Open Enrollment. The District had previously charged tuition for out-of-district students attending in the Boise District; 3113 allowed for out of district open enrollment on a space available basis without tuition. The Board passed the policy to help deal with enrollment decline due to a drop in kindergarten enrollment and relocation of families to valley locations for cheaper housing.

Out of district Open Enrollment grew steadily until the 2010-11 school year, when it leveled off at about 1150. It has remained at close to that level for the past five years, and currently stands at 1126, or about 4% of total District enrollment.

Most out of district open enrollment is into "border" schools; that is, schools that border other districts. Over 80% of out of district open enrollment is from the West Ada School District. Out of district elementary open enrollment is greatest into Amity, Owyhee, Valley View, and Pierce Park, and secondary into Capital High School and its two feeder junior high schools, Fairmont and Riverglen.  All of these schools but Owyhee are on the boundary with West Ada.

Open enrollment has provided choice for parents and their students since 2003. However, as schools in certain attendance areas in the District have filled up with in-attendance-area students, the District has had to restrict or curtail open enrollment, because our first obligation is to provide for attendance of our students at a neighborhood school. Once the needs of in-attendance -area students are met, we provide opportunities for those who live outside the attendance area but within the district, and then we allow out-of-district open enrollment when space is available.

Enrollment infill naturally happens as an uneven process across a city. For example, the chart below shows the growth of in-attendance-area enrollment at the four comprehensive Boise high schools in 2009, 2011, and 2014.

In-attendance area enrollment has grown by just over 200 at Boise High, and by almost 300 at Borah, but has remained stable at Capital and Timberline. District officials must monitor these trends to insure that choice is promoted in an equitable fashion, and must consider neighborhood growth as a principal factor in their decision-making.


Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools operating under the supervision of a Board of Trustees, which may be elected or appointed. The Board is held accountable by whichever agency charters the school, be that the Board of Trustees of a local school district or the Idaho State Board of Education.

According to the Idaho Department of Education's Charter School web page:

"In 1998 Idaho's legislature passed the Idaho Charter School Law. Since the law was passed a total of 57 charter schools have opened and eight of the schools have closed. As of the 2014-2015 school year, there are eight virtual charter schools, some with a blended model of online and onsite capabilities. There are 41 "brick and mortar" charter schools in operation."

Specifically, House Bill 517 established the petition procedure for charter schools:


(1)  Any  person  may request the board of trustees of a school  district  to  establish  a  charter school, or to convert an existing school within the school district to charter
status...A petition  to  establish  a  new charter school shall be submitted to the board of trustees of the district for review  after the petition has been signed by not less than thirty 
(30) qualified electors of the district."

After lengthy negotiations, ANSER, a school emphasizing Expeditionary Learning, multi-grade classrooms, and small class sizes, became the first Idaho Charter School in 1999, authorized by the Boise School District. ANSER initially offered its program at a gymnastics facility on River Street in Boise, and later moved to a building in Garden City.

Many legislative changes have followed, but among the most important occurred after districts began to reject charter applications, primarily on the basis of lack of a feasible fiscal plan.  In 2005, the legislature established the Idaho Charter Commission, which functioned under the auspices of the Idaho Board of Education. The Charter Commission could approve charters that were rejected by school districts.

There are currently 48  charter schools in operation in the state of Idaho. 13 are authorized by districts, and 35 by the Idaho Charter Commission. 8 are primarily or completely virtual schools. 9 subscribe to the Harbor curriculum, a skills-based, discipline intensive program. 8 charter schools have closed since 1998, and 1 (Hidden Springs) was closed and reopened as a Boise District school.  Charter school enrollment has grown rapidly since the authorizing law was passed, from under 1% of the public school student population in Idaho to almost 8%.

The intent of the legislature was included in HB517, as follows:

"(1)  Improve student learning;
(2)  Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students;
(3)  Include the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
(4)  Create new professional opportunities  for  teachers,  including  the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site;
(5)  Provide  parents  and  students with expanded choices in the types of
educational opportunities that are available within the public school system;
(6)  Hold the schools established under this chapter accountable for meeting measurable student educational standards..."

Certainly, Idaho's first charter school, ANSER, met those criteria. However, in March 2013, the Office of Performance Evaluations released a report entitled "Policy Differences Between Charter and Traditional Schools" in which they examined the purported differences between charter and traditional schools, and found that:

"As public education policies have changed, we found that the elements intended to distinguish charter schools are no longer as distinct. In many cases, traditional schools have found ways to offer many of the expanded choices once available at charter schools. Now students in both charter and traditional schools are offered additional opportunities such as specialized curricula, different instructional methods, and online instruction." (Executive Summary, page x).

The OPE report also raised questions about the demography of charter schools when compared with traditional public schools, especially with Limited English students:

"Putting these numbers into percentages, 6 percent of total district students were identified with Limited English proficiency compared with less than 0.5 percent of total charter school students." (page 39).

In April, 2015, Levi Cavener, a  Special Education teacher in the Vallivue District, wrote an op-ed for Idaho Education News entitled "Charters are no Choice for Idaho's Minority Students" Using State Department of Education data, Cavener revealed that most charters had low percentages of Special Education, Limited English, and Free/Reduced students compared with the districts in which they were located. 

Though Idaho Charter Network personnel wrote responses that were published in Idaho Ed News, the Annual Report from the Idaho Charter Commission that supported Cavener's argument and led to another op-ed entitled "Charters Must Now Recognize Disparity Exists".

Finally, Centro de Communidad y Justica (Center for Community and Justice) filed a complaint with the United States Office of Civil Rights against the State of Idaho, Idaho Board of Education,  Idaho Department of Education, Idaho Charter School Commission, and the 48 Idaho Charter Schools and their Boards, utilizing data from the Charter Commission and State Department of Education to allege discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, and disability.

Among the statements in the complaint is this one:

"Although the CCJ has attempted to persuade the Idaho legislature, the Idaho Department of Education, and the Idaho Charter School Commission that this systemic discrimination should be rectified, Idaho official have turned a deaf ear to CCJ's concerns and refused to engage in any meaningful discussion."

The relief sought by the CCJ includes:

  • a thorough investigation of Idaho's charter schools
  • a determination that the (Idaho Charter School) Act violates federal law
  • a determination that the Act discriminates based upon race, color, national origin, ethnicity and disability
  • a requirement that Idaho Charter School lottery system be completely revamped
  • a requirement that a comprehensive busing system be implemented statewide to remove geographical inequities in charter schools
  • a mandate that all charter schools implement free/reduced lunch programs
  • a mandate that Idaho apply a broad range of approaches to prevent the reoccurence of the discrimination claimed.
In the final post of this series, we'll discuss open enrollment as a form of school choice.

As the charter school movement has grown in the state of Idaho, and school districts have offered more choice in the form of magnet schools, focus schools, and open enrollment options, the details of available options and how they work has become increasingly unclear. Here's an attempt to clarify how the choice options available in Idaho work.

Magnet Schools

Magnet schools have been available for a very long time in education. Magnets provide an option for students (and their parents) interested in a particular field of study or approach to education, and are offered within a school district. Magnet schools and focus schools are different names for the same thing.

Some magnets are partial day programs. There are a number of Professional-Technical programs in Idaho which offer access to programs as wide-ranging as Welding, Auto Body, Emergency Medical Technology. Teaching Assistant, and Culinary Arts. Typically, students attend these programs for a block of time during the school day, and then return to their home schools. The Dehryl A. Dennis Professional Technical School serves this purpose in the Boise District.

The Treasure Valley Math and Science program is a little different, in that students apply for the program through a rigorous process and, if accepted, attend for half the school day, studying advanced math and science concepts. TVMSC attendees are primarily junior high age students, though some elementary students also qualify each year. Students' performance levels on state tests and Advanced Placement exams are reported at their home schools. The TVMSC high school program is offered at Capital High School.

Elementary magnet programs have proliferated during the past decade as the charter school movement has grown. In Boise alone, Dual Language (Whittier and Whitney), International (Longfellow), Montessori (Liberty),  Harbor (Owyhee and Hidden Springs) and Classical (Pierce Park) programs are provided. These programs are kind of a hybrid; students living within the school attendance area have first choice, and those outside can apply for seats on a space available basis.

Renaissance High School in West Ada is the best example of a full-day magnet program in the valley. Renaissance uses the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a challenging program similar to Advanced Placement, so most of its applicants are students drawn from district high schools, and are motivated to achieve at a high level. Accordingly, Renaissance achievement levels are strong, and since it is a full-day high school, scores are reported for the school itself.

Alternative Schools are a type of magnet school, as well, albeit for a different audience. Alternative Schools serve students who may have lost credit for various reasons, or have simply not been successful in the traditional school environment. Students must qualify as "at risk" by meeting criteria set forth by the State Board of Education. Typically, Alternative Schools will feature smaller class sizes and support services. Frank Church High School is the Boise District's alternative high school.

In the next post, we'll examine the history and configuration of charter schools in the state of Idaho.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Here are some interesting articles and topics from the past several weeks:

Poverty, College Graduation Rates, and Student Debt

In an article from The New York Times' The Upshot entitled "For the Poor, the Graduation Gap Is Even Wider Than the Enrollment Gap", author Dr. Susan Dynarski, an economics professor from the University of Michigan, describes the results of a longitudinal study begun in 2002 by the National Center for Education Statistics examining college graduation rates among 15,000 high school sophomores.

The study looked at the parental demographics of the students, their scores on standardized math and reading tests, and their college graduation rates. 

As Dr. Dynarski wrote:

"A poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. In both groups, 41 percent receive a degree by their late 20s."

In two other articles, "Student Loans and Defaults: The Facts" and  "The Rise of Student Debt for Those Who Get DegreesDr. Dynarski wrote about the percentage of students accumulating certain amounts of debt during their college careers. Here are a couple of charts from those articles, reprinted with permission of Dr. Dynarski.

Among those attending college, 68% accumulate $10k or less in debt, while only 2% garner more than $50k.

For those attaining a Bachelor's degree, only 48% accumulate less than $10k, and 5% have more than $50k. 

According to Dr. Dynarski, "These borrowing numbers for B.A. recipients, though higher than those of dropouts, still do not resemble the six-figure debts we hear about in the news media. To find those, we have to look to graduate students. Of the $1.2 trillion in outstanding student-loan debt, 40 percent is borrowing for graduate school. Borrowing is highest among law and medical graduates; their median debt (combined undergraduate and graduate) is $141,000 and $162,000, respectively, for 2012 graduates."

Fascinating articles - we'd recommend The Upshot as a resource for interesting research in a variety of areas, including demography and education.

Belated Graduation Congratulations

The class of 2015 has left the building - literally. Marian Pritchett's graduation ceremonies were held at Timberline High School, Frank Church students graduated at the Morrison Center, and Boise, Borah, Capital, and Timberline from Taco Bell Arena at BSU. Congratulations 2015 graduates!

Each graduation speaker had a different tone, but all reflected the anticipation of great things to come. The Borah graduation ceremony was the grand finale, and proceedings concluded with the singing of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, once the song requested by other schools to make sport of the Lions, but now a unifying song emblematic of Borah's spirit and pride.

Borah students perform The Lion Sleeps Tonight at the conclusion of graduation ceremony. Dots of light are from cell phones in the audience.

Alternative Views of the STEM "Shortage"

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields have received increasing amounts of attention in the past few years, with general agreement as to the need to produce more graduates in these fields. Recently, the Idaho Statesman featured an article by education reporter Bill Roberts highlighting the problem and featuring data for the Boise District about the increasing number of STEM graduates from the District.

Clearly, students in the District have increasingly listened to the messaging about STEM and are enrolling in those fields in record numbers.

Here are two alternative views of the "crisis". 

From The Atlantic magazine last March is an article by Michael S. Teitelbaum entitled "The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage", in which he wrote:

"A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more."

In August 2013, Robert N. Charette, writing for the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum, authored "The Stem Crisis is a Myth", a well-researched piece which included this quote:

"To parse the simultaneous claims of both a shortage and a surplus of STEM workers, we’ll need to delve into the data behind the debate, how it got going more than a half century ago, and the societal, economic, and nationalistic biases that have perpetuated it. And what that dissection reveals is that there is indeed a STEM crisis—just not the one everyone’s been talking about. The real STEM crisis is one of literacy: the fact that today’s students are not receiving a solid grounding in science, math, and engineering.

Charette's argument, that students in general are not getting a good grounding in STEM fields is interesting, and might explain why districts which have high percentages of students taking advanced math and science courses might have more students choosing STEM fields in college.

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 11, 2015


In the last post, we wrote about expanding AP test numbers in the Boise District, and about the fact that the number of sophomores taking exams has exploded, going from 74 to 324 in the space of four year, an increase of over 400% in student participation.

So, since this is a new phenomenon for Boise, we got to wondering: how are the 10th graders doing on the AP exams? The answer: just fine.

As we indicated in the last post, the highest participation by sophomores in AP testing has on two exams - Human Geography and World History. In fact, 280 of the 407 exams (69%) taken in 2014 by Boise sophomores were for those two tests.

Boise 10th graders took 131 Human Geography exams, 73% of the state total (181). Boise sophomores took 149 World History exams, 38% of the state total (383). It's worth noting that Boise's student population is about 9% of Idaho's total student population.

As previously noted, Advanced Placement exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with scores of 3, 4, and 5 eligible for college credit or course waiver. Here's a chart comparing the performance of Boise's 10th graders with overall performance in the Idaho and the nation:

Boise sophomores outperformed the nation on both exams, with 14% more students receiving a mark of "3" or better on the Human Geography exam, and 33% more attained those scores in World History. These two exams have pass rates that are lower the national AP program overall rate of 59%.

As the number of Boise District underclassmen (and women) taking AP exams has grown, these students continue to outperform the state and the nation, with the guidance and instruction provided our excellent, well-prepared teachers. It's gratifying to see that as more opportunities for rigor are offered to students earlier in their high school careers, they continue to show that they are up to the challenge.