Sunday, October 30, 2016


Seems there have been an unprecedented number of education polls this year - 2016 began with the release of an Albertson Foundation poll, which was closely followed by a survey by BSU's Public Policy Department, A poll from Dan Jones and Associates for Idaho Politics Weekly, and another by BSU. Along the way, we asked for the help of Patinkin Research Strategies with our own "Customer Satisfaction" poll.

In each of these polls, questions were asked about similar educational issues, with somewhat different phrasing. And...they yielded very different results!

Quality of Idaho Schools

As indicated, the year began with the Albertson Foundation "Landmark" Survey, a statewide poll of 1000 citizens with an error margin of +/- 3%.

Here's question 2 from the Albertson Foundation survey (pink numbers represent percentages):

So, not really encouraging. Only 7% were totally satisfied with their public schools.  But at least 72% thought the schools were "okay" or "in very good shape".

Both BSU surveys asked a somewhat similar question. Here are the results of the question on the first survey.

On the first BSU survey (1000 respondents, +/- 3.1%), about 28% of the respondents rated the quality of Idaho's k-12 education as "Good" or "Excellent". When we add in "Fair", the percentage jumps to 65%, seven percentage points lower than the Albertson survey.

Dan Jones and Associates conducted education polling (601 respondents, +/- 4%) for Idaho Politics Weekly in August, and found decidedly different results. Fully 66% of respondents rated public schools a "4" or "5" on a five-point scale, a "favorable" rating. Another 19% rated public schools a "3"(neutral), meaning that 85% were either neutral or responded favorably.

Further, Jones and Associates found that only 55% expressed faith in charter schools, in almost direct opposition to the Albertson Foundation poll, which found that 80% "strongly favored" or "somewhat favored" charter schools.

The results of the  second BSU poll came out in September. The statewide results for the exact same question were different than those in BSU's first poll.

In the second BSU poll (1000 respondents, +/- 2.3%)  39.2% rated the quality of Idaho's K-12 schools as "Good" Or Excellent" compared with 27.6% in the first poll. And the percentage rating K-12 schools as "Fair", "Good" or "Excellent" was 71%, compared with 65% in the first poll.

Quality of Local Schools

The Albertson Foundation poll asked a question about local schools, then used all of the responses to aggregate a statewide "local public schools" grade from A to F.

This poll found that 42% of respondents would give local public schools a grade of "A" or "B", and 78% would give a grade of "C" or above.

The second BSU poll asked a similar question, but identified the responses related to particular school districts and in the Treasure Valley, and used the same "Excellent/Good/Fair/Poor" response matrix used for their overall education quality question.

If one considers "Fair" and above as similar to "C and above" the BSU survey found a similar percentage of responses in those categories  to the Albertson survey. In fact, 76% of respondents answered "Fair", "Good" and "Excellent" as to the quality of Treasure Valley public schools on the BSU survey, and 78% responded "A", "B" or "C" on the Albertson survey.

However, the BSU survey found that 50% of Treasure Valley respondents rated their schools "Excellent" or "Good", while the Albertson Foundation survey found that 42% of respondents statewide rated local schools "A" or "B".

In May, the Boise District conducted its "customer satisfaction" survey with Patinkin and Associates. The poll was conducted with 600 patrons, and had an error margin of +/- 4.9%. Here are survey responses to a question that attempted to get at the same kind of quality assessment among Boise patrons.

On this question, 83% of respondents respondents chose "Very well" or "Pretty well" as to how the statement "Does a good job with limited resources? describes the school district. The percentage rose to 92% when we subtracted "I don't know" from the totals and recalculated.

Polling Articles

There have been some interesting articles lately about factors which can influence polling results. Since the articles are about election polling, some of the references don't apply to the polls done this year on education. But some do.

From the New York Times' Upshot research blog, and article by David Rothschild and Sharad Goel entitled "When You Hear the Margin of Error Is Plus or Minus 3 Percent, Think 7 Instead" explores assumptions built into polls and weighting effects. From CNBC, David Schoen writes about the presidential elections polls in "Here's how to make sense of the latest Clinton, Trump poll results".

Schoen writes,"Why do the margins vary so widely from one poll to another? The short answer: Opinion polling includes a lot of guesswork and assumptions, and pollsters make different choices when setting up their surveys."

And, for some fun reading, here's another Upshot article, by Nate Cohn, that describes the undue influence that weighting might give some groups or individuals in "How One 19-Year-Old Illinois Man Is Distorting National Polling Averages".

And, finally, here's an interesting article published in Boise Weekly (originally in Propublica) about faulty ballot design. You may recall that we had some issues with ballots in the 2014 School Board elections. These examples are amazing.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


The late 90's and early 2000's saw a shift in public school enrollment across the Treasure Valley. Families increasingly moved from Boise into the suburban areas, first to Meridian and subsequently to other parts of the valley in search of more affordable real estate. Boise's enrollment shrank, and Meridian (now West Ada)'s exploded. Using State Department of Education data, we have put together a chart-based examination of the shift.

Boise and West Ada

The districts' enrollment paths crossed in 2003; since then, West Ada has grown by about 11,600 students, and Boise by about 150. And that's with about 1150 West Ada students open enrolled to Boise's schools. 

West Ada's kindergarten enrollment grew by leaps and bounds during this period, even though it has declined recently. Even though kindergarten enrollment grew in Boise until recently, the pace of growth was not even remotely close to that of West Ada.

But something else was happening, as well. Not only was West Ada's kindergarten enrollment growing dramatically from year to year, but classes entering the system grew substantially as they progressed toward graduation.

Here are the classes of '15 and '16 from the two districts, from kindergarten through 12th grade:

In the West Ada District, the classes of 2015 and 2016 grew by 29% and 27%, respectively, as they progressed through the grades. In Boise, the class of 2015 grew by 2% and the class of 2016 was about the same size in kindergarten as it was in 12th grade.

Smaller Treasure Valley Districts

Here's the 20-year enrollment pattern for four smaller Treasure Valley districts:

As you can see, Vallivue's enrollment has jumped from about 3000 to just over 8500 in 20 years, and Kuna's student population has more than doubled in the same time period. The Vallivue District had only one 4A high school in 1995; Vallivue High then moved to 5A (largest athletic classification), and now the district has 2 4A schools, after opening a new high school, Ridgevue, this year. Kuna is in its first year with a 5A high school.

Kindergarten enrollment over time:

Again, Vallivue's kindergarten enrollment has more than tripled in the past 20 years, going from 212 in 1995 to 672 last year. Kuna's kindergarten enrollment has also grown substantially.

And finally, a longitudinal look at k-12 enrollment in the four districts:

With the exception of Caldwell, each district saw enrollment growth from k to 12, with Kuna's class growing the by over 100 students. However, Caldwell's class of 2016 was 200 smaller than when it started out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Pursuant to Idaho Code 33-320, all Idaho School Districts must publish their continuous improvement plans on the District website. Boise's plan contains five goal areas:
  • Quality teaching and learning
  • Educational Opportunity
  • Hiring, Training, and Retaining the Best Staff
  • School Environment and Safety
  • Community Relations and Communications
The goal areas really provide a summary of areas of focus. In order to understand how Boise's plan is coming alive in the District, we should look at some of the actions we are starting/continuing. Most can be classified under more than one goal area.

Community Schools

Last year, District personnel traveled to Vancouver, Washington to see that district's Community Schools program. The idea of community schools is to provide coordination of services for students and families in a particular neighborhood. Whether it's help with accessing medical or dental services, filling out required forms, receiving translation help, or other needed services, the Community School Coordinator provides a crucial link for parents and students in need of help.

The Community School model is in its infancy in the Boise District. The first-year locations are all at elementary schools: Morley Nelson, Whittier, Garfield and Hawthorne.

Collaboration Time

The District has worked long and hard to provide collaboration time for teachers in the past several years, in support of the Professional Learning Communities model in place in Boise. Whether through negotiations with the Boise Education Association or through working with principals across the District, the effort to provide such time has been successful, and teachers now have more time to work together for the benefit of students. The latest effort is moving from a six-period teaching day at the high schools to a 5 period day, with the extra prep time partially devoted to providing remediation/extension tailored to student needs.

Facilities Audit

Cincinnati-based DeJong-Richter provides invaluable services to districts across the country, analyzing issues such as capacity, condition, and efficacy of buildings for educating children. Our current partnership (DeJong helped the district do an analysis in 2005) has yielded a trove of data that will lead to approval of a 10-year facilities plan based on the analysis and input from patrons and staff.

DeJong-Richter held two community meetings last month, and will be back on October 17 at 6 p.m. in the Capital High cafeteria to present the proposed 10-year plan to interested patrons.


The Boise District's AVID program will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in 2016-17, and has provided a legacy of encouraging college dreams for students from the "forgotten middle". There are now almost 1200 students enrolled in the program, and AVID grads are going on to college at a rate of 79%, compared with a District "go on" rate of 61% and a statewide rate under 50%.

College and Career Counseling

The District is coordinating with a non-profit called Step Ahead Idaho to add to our array of college and career counseling services. Step Ahead, which already has a location at the Downtown YMCA, will add a location to expand its services, in coordination with Career Counselors at the five high schools.

Math Interventions - Seminar

Several years ago, we implemented a program known as "Math Seminars", in which teachers have a period devoted to providing "just in time" instruction for students who are in need of a little extra help in their math classes. Students placed in Seminar classes attend their regular math classes, and have another period of math during the day in which they get the extra help.

Career Technical Education Expansion

Beginning in 2017-18, we'll offer the first of three new Career Technical Education classes at the Dennis Center on Victory Road - a program leading to an Electrician apprenticeship. Sophomores will take a class in electrical principles, and then as juniors and seniors will engage in a two-year apprenticeship program which will satisfy the first year of a 5-year apprentice program. The coursework will align with that of the College of Western Idaho.

In the coming years, we will add two other trades to the offering - HVAC and Plumbing. These 3 trades are set to grow by 20-25% in the coming decade, and employers are already finding it very difficult to find good candidates.

Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles

The College Board has a new Computer Science offering known as AP Computer Science Principles. It is much more student-friendly and application driven, and is now offered in every comprehensive high school. Nearly 300 high school students are taking the class this year.


There has been plenty of publicity about the partnership among the City of Boise, Boise Schools, United Way, and other non-profits to create Pre-K programs at Hawthorne and Whitney Elementary Schools. First-year results showed that 83% of Pre-K students scored a "3" (grade-level pre-reading) as they entered kindergarten, compared with 50% of students not involved with the program. This year, we've added another Pre-K session at Whitney to bring the total number of sessions to 4.

These programs and a number of others are keeping the Boise District at the forefront of educational innovation in the state of Idaho. It's an exciting time in public education!

Monday, October 10, 2016


Here are a few interesting articles from the past few weeks:

Job Prospects for College Grads

In "Fear of a College-Educated Barista", Derek Thompson writes about the job prospects of college graduates and cites research about the prospects of STEM-educated graduates versus those in the liberal arts. Though he indicates that grads' prospects are better than those without a degree, he also says:

"This happy news comes with an important asterisk. A large chasm has opened between the fates of young liberal-arts majors and their peers in STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) fields. The former are struggling to find work that pays, at least before their late twenties. The latter are mostly finding lucrative work after they graduate."


"Indeed, the gap between humanities and STEM students is striking. Underemployment afflicts more than 50 percent of majors in the performing arts, anthropology, art history, history, communications, political science, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and international affairs."

Are Polling Margins of Error Accurate?

David Rothschild and Sharad Goel report in The Upshot on research done by Andrew Gelman and Houshmand Shirani-Mehr on election polling. The researchers examined the results of over 4000 polls in state-level presidential, Senate, and Gubernatorial races from 1998 to 2014. They found that the margin of error in the polls was twice what was reported with the polling results; instead of a margin of error of 3%, the actual error margin was 6-7%. 

This increase from the stated error margin is due to several factors, according to the authors:

  • "voter screens" - often, pollster will try to correct error by asking about the likelihood of voting, but this will often increase the error margin rather than decreasing it.
  • non-response error - often, voters supporting the trailing candidate will understate the likelihood of voting in the election, affecting the accuracy of the poll.
  • analysis error - pollsters may analyze data very differently, leading to different conclusions drawn from the same database.
  • survey working and interviewer bias - though these are viewed as less important in election polling, they may make for large differences in issue-based polling.
As the authors write: " reality, we find that the polling average can easily be two points off from the final vote share. For any given race, the polls are consistently too high for one of the candidates and too low for the other."

The Need to Revive Vocational Training

In Forbes, Nicholas Wyman writes about the desperate need to bring back vocational training in schools.

The author argues that, though 2/3 of high schools go on to college, only 40% eventually graduate, many carrying large debt loads. And, even then, those in particular majors are under-employed (see above post).

Wyman writes: "The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing, creating a wealth of challenging, well-paying, highly skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them. The demise of vocational education at the high school level has bred a skills shortage in manufacturing today, and with it a wealth of career opportunities for both under-employed college grads and high school students looking for direct pathways to interesting, lucrative careers."

If you are patient enough to get through all of the ads associated with the Forbes site, this is an interesting read.