Monday, November 28, 2016


Reaction to President-Elect Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education has been fast and furious. DeVos, a Michigan native and promoter of charters and vouchers, has been praised from some corners:

In the Chatanoogan, Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Education committee, said:

“Betsy DeVos is an excellent choice. The Senate’s education committee will move swiftly in January to consider her nomination. Betsy has worked for years to improve educational opportunities for all children. As secretary, she will be able to implement the new law fixing No Child Left Behind just as Congress wrote it, reversing the trend to a national school board and restoring to states, governors, school boards, teachers, and parents greater responsibility for improving education in their local communities..."

And former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said this, as reported on

“I cannot think of a more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms,” he said.

Others, and especially those in the public education sphere, feel differently.

Peter Greene, author of the education blog Curmudgucation, shared his feelings in a piece entitled "How Bad Is DeVos? So Bad...". Here's a quote from his piece:

"...In fact, before we even start to discuss just how terrible and destructive her (Devos') ideas about public education are, we should be talking about her complete lack of qualifications to run a federal department. She is not familiar with how schools work. She is not familiar with how large metropolitan or state systems for education work. She is not familiar with how to work with people who are not on her personal payroll."

Here's another post by Greene on the same subject.

In Electablog, from Michigan, Devos' home state, Mitchell Robinson writes "Trump names Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education: It’s Game, Set, Match for public education", and includes this quote:

"For (Michigan Governor) Snyder and DeVos, the purpose of education is not to help develop a more informed and educated citizenry, or to help children to become more fully human by providing a comprehensive, high quality curriculum, including music, art, and physical education in addition to the rest of the disciplines. The purpose of education under Snyder and DeVos is to turn the state’s once excellent system of public schools into an educational WalMart, boasting “low, low prices” in place of quality instruction."

And here is Carol Burris, and award winning high school principal, as quoted in the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, written by Valerie Strauss:

"The DeVos pick makes one thing clear — it shows Trump’s commitment to the privatization of public schools. … DeVos wants all children to have vouchers, and she opposes regulations and oversight.  Betsy DeVos spent over $1 million to successfully block the effort of the Michigan legislature to clean up the mess of for-profit, unregulated charters. … The veil of so-called ed reform is now off."

And finally, analysis from The Atlantic online edition, "5 Things to Know About Betsy Devos, Trump's pick for Secretary of Education".

Batten down the hatches. It's going to be an interesting ride.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


"Go On" rates in the Southern Idaho Conference had gained ground from 2007 (when we started tracking the data in our high schools) to 2013, . But data from the Idaho Board of Education's High School Feedback website shows that "Direct to College" and "12 month enrollment" have plummeted for the classes of 2014 and 2015, in the SIC and statewide.

The overall "Direct to College" rate sank from 50% with the class of 2013 to 44% for the class of 2015. The "12 month enrollment" rate rate dropped from 54% to 46% for the same classes.

Among the 14 largest school districts in the state, all but Coeur d'Alene lost ground in 12 month enrollment, and, with the class of 2015, only Boise and Coeur d'Alene stood at 60% or above with Boise at 60% and CDA at 61%. 

Here are the data for those districts:

So, what gives? Why have rates gone down after districts were making good progress?

Well, our best guess if that the sudden drop is due to two primary factors:

  • Many more jobs are available in the current economy
  • The prospect of the accumulation of considerable debt is not attractive to Idaho high school students or their families
It probably doesn't help, either, that certain Idaho entities have been telling Idaho high school students that they aren't "ready" or "prepared" for college, even though the data show that the measures used to assess preparedness are not particularly well correlated with success in college.

However, the Idaho State Board of Education has taken measures that hopefully will help to address the issue. The Board in 2015 began a program called "Direct Admission", in which letters of admission to Idaho colleges were sent to over 20,000 Idaho high school students based on their cumulative GPA (the best predictor of college success).

Idaho college enrollments are up this fall, so we suspect that the program has been a success. But we will know how it's affected "Go On" rates soon. The National Student Clearinghouse Direct to College reports for the class of 2016 will be available at the end of November.

In Boise, we have been very supportive of the SBOE Direct Admission program, but we are also moving to strengthen our Career Technical programs. The Boise District will add several CTE programs in the next several years. These programs will be in the areas of Electrical, HVAC, and Plumbing, three job training areas that are expected to grow by 20% or more in the next decade. These programs, which will likely not be outsourced in coming years(!), will add to the other excellent programs at the Dennis Career Center, such as Auto Body, Auto Tech, and Welding.

Interestingly enough, our business partners indicate that these jobs can often provide high five-figure incomes for students who work through the required internships. They also indicate high job satisfaction in these jobs for students who like to "work with their hands".


About Those National Merit Semi-Finalists...

As we've written previously. 47 of the 95 2017 Idaho National Merit Semi-Finalists go to school in the Boise District. For sure, these are some very bright and talented students. But they have also worked very hard to get where they are. These students are now seniors, and here is some information about their cumulative accomplishments:

Average Grade Point Average: 4.18 (weighted)

Average number of Advanced Placement classes: 10

Average EBRW SAT Score: 738 (Possible Score 800)

Average Math SAT Score: 743 (Possible Score 800)

Average Composite SAT Score: 1481 (Possible Score 1600)

Additionally, the vast majority of these stellar students somehow make time for pursuit in the arts, whether it be band, orchestra, art, or other coursework. A truly special group of students.

What Do Vouchers Accomplish? Not much.

Writing in Politico, Stephanie Simon has published an article entitled "Vouchers don't do Much for Students" in which she reports the research related to the controversial program.

Simon writes, "Ever since the Obama administration filed suit to freeze Louisiana’s school voucher program, high-ranking Republicans have pummeled the president for trapping poor kids in failing public schools...But behind the outrage is an inconvenient truth: Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition — and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.

Simon also indicates that voucher programs benefit private schools and homeschoolers, writing "Also, voucher recipients aren’t always trapped in failing public schools; in fact, some have never even tried the public system. Fully two-thirds of students in Wisconsin’s Parental Choice Program were already enrolled in private schools before they received the tuition subsidy — and another 5 percent were home schooled, state data show."

Conflicting Research on Pre-K

David Loewenburg writes in The Atlantic an article about the holdout of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota on preschools, and attempts to explain why the phenomenon exists. In "Why the Mountain West is Still Holding out on Preschool" Loewenburg attributes the cause of Pre-k resistance to philosophical underpinnings: "The unique blend of conservatism and libertarianism embraced here manifests itself in a  collective exaltation of personal freedom, privacy, and a general skepticism of the government’s role in their daily lives."

Loewenburg writes about the resistance in the face of a growing body of research supporting the pre-k investment. But there is a new source of disagreement.

A new report from the Brookings Institute reports that research done in Tennessee that initially showed progress for over 1000 students enrolled in preschool there not only lost the academic advantage by the first grade, but scored lower than the control group by the end of 3rd grade.

Our favorite Pennsylvania English teacher Peter Greene responded critically to the Brooking report with his own article, entitled "Is Pre-k a Waste of Time?" in which he points out that the report was based solely on achievement testing, and not on more important measures of effectiveness.

Green writes, "There are two unexamined assumptions behind all of this foolishness.One is that education for the littles can only count if it is somehow converted to data that adults can feast on, and the other is that getting a head start on academic achievement and test-taking is more important than getting a head start on being a human being."