Friday, February 26, 2010

Utah Legislature OKs College Charter Schools

The Utah House of Representatives voted this week to give colleges and universities the authority to authorize public charter schools in the state of Utah, according to the Deseret News.

Currently, in Utah, public charter schools can be approved through a school district or the State Charter School Board, which is similar to Idaho’s system. In Idaho, a charter school can be authorized by the local school district or the Idaho Public Charter School Commission.

Under Senate Bill 55, Utah would also give colleges and universities the authority to approved K-12 public charter schools. The State Board of Education would still need to give final approval to all charter schools.

The Utah Board of Regents, the Utah Technology Council and the Utah Taxpayers Association have supported the legislation. The bill faced some opposition from House members who said the current system is working.

The bill, which was amended in the House, will now head back to the Senate.

Several states already give colleges and universities the authority to authorize public charter schools. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, institutions of higher education in Missouri, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida have authorized public charter schools.

Click here to read the full story from the Deseret News.

~ Melissa M.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Music Week at the Capitol

Music Week at the Capitol starts next week!  Stop by the Statehouse to enjoy great music from talented Idaho students.  Check out the full schedule below. 

Tuesday, March 2
            11:20              North Star Charter (Eagle)
            11:40              Borah High School Select Women’s Choir (Boise)
            12:00              Borah High School Select Mixed Choir (Boise)
Wednesday, March 3
            12:20              Xavier Charter (Twin Falls)
            12:40              Butte High School (Arco)
              1:00              Borah High School (Boise)
Thursday, March 4
            11:40              Whitney Elementary School (Boise)
            12:00              Idaho Arts Charter (Nampa)
            12:20              Popplewell Elementary Honor Choir (Buhl)
            12:40              Whitney Elementary School (Boise)
Friday, March 5
            11:40              Idaho Falls High School (Idaho Falls)
            12:00              Wood River High School (Hailey)
            12:20              Centennial Elementary School (Nampa)

-Camille W.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Qwest Awards Eight Idaho Teachers with Tech Grants

The Qwest Foundation has awarded eight Idaho teachers with $75,000 in grant awards to improve technology in their classrooms. The state received nearly 100 grant applications this year.

“I am proud to partner with the Qwest Foundation to bring these innovative teachers’ ideas to life,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said. “More technology in the classroom helps raise student achievement by keeping students engaged and better preparing our youth for the ever-changing world that awaits them.”

Over the past six years, Qwest has donated more than $400,000 to Idaho teachers through the Qwest Foundation for Education grant program. The competitive grants are awarded to Idaho K-12 public school classroom teachers who demonstrate innovative uses of technology in the classroom.

“We have been very pleased with the creativity and overall excellence of the grant proposals,” Qwest Idaho President Jim Schmit. “This is a great opportunity for Qwest to make a positive difference in the lives of Idaho students and to help teachers.”

Here is the list of awards winners and a brief description of how they will use the grant funding:

• Neil Barson, Lake Hazel Middle School, Meridian School District: $7,660
Barson will make iPas (Interactive Pyware Assessment System) software and hardware available to band students. The program guides music students through practice sessions, assessing things like pitch and rhythm.

• Becky Pickard, Genesee Elementary School, Genesee School District: $9,917.98
Pickard will purchase 24 heart rate monitors, two pocket PCs and other supporting software and equipment that students will be able to use to graph heart rates, set fitness goals, track activities and use in other ways as part of their physical education classes.

• Fred Woolley, Sugar-Salem High School, Sugar-Salem School District: $9,709.64
Woolley will install three software-based driving simulators at Sugar-Salem High School.

• Vicki Krogstrand, Gifted and Talented PACE Program, Idaho Falls School District: $9,533.60
Krogstrand will create a virtual toy company to teach economics to her gifted and talented elementary school students in the Idaho Falls school district.

• Samantha Archibold Mora, Borah High School, Boise School District: $9,999.50
Mora will purchase 25 laptops and related software to create a mobile computer lab. Spanish classes will use the laptops to connect with students in Spain and Latin America, while English classes at Borah also will use the mobile lab to expand use of Internet-based writing technologies such as Google Documents.

• Shawn Tiegs, Highland Junior-Senior High School, Highland Joint School District: $9,950.00
Tiegs will purchase 16 handheld GPS units and five laptops to use in science classes at Highland Junior-Senior High School.

• Terrell Gardner, William Thomas Middle School, American Falls School District: $8,438.00
Gardner will purchase the equipment to videotape and make classroom activities available to students outside the classroom.

• Vana Richards, Carberry Intermediate School, Emmett School District: $9,791.00
Richards will purchase Celestron Sky Scout Personal Planetarium units, which use GPS technology to identify planets and starts. Combined with iPod touches and a MacBook computer, students can start reporting, researching, watching and developing video clips relating to the universe. They will also collaborate with local astronomers and share their projects with other area schools and members of the community.

The Qwest Foundation for Education grant funding will be available next year, thanks to Qwest. The new application will be posted on the State Department of Education’s Technology Services web site soon.

~ Melissa M.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sugar-Salem is First Idaho District to Require Online Learning

The Sugar-Salem School District has become the first district in Idaho to mandate online learning as a requirement for high school graduation.

Beginning next school year, in partnership with Idaho Digital Learning (IDLA), all students graduating in 2013 or later, must complete one online credit to graduate.

“This is where education is heading,” Alan Dunn, Sugar-Salem Superintendent, said in a news release. “Children have to learn how to negotiate this online world in which we live. We want them to learn now, in a structured environment and with the help and support of Idaho Digital Learning.”

Currently Michigan, Alabama and New Mexico require all graduating students statewide to take an online course. Sugar-Salem is the first district in Idaho to adopt such a policy.

The state sets statewide minimum high school graduation requirements that all Idaho public schools must implement; however, school districts have the flexibility to go above and beyond these standards if they choose.

Next year’s 9th grade class will be the first required to take at least one online course at Sugar-Salem High School. If taken through IDLA, the class will be paid for by the district. The Sugar-Salem School District, near Rexburg, has approximately 1,500 students, including 410 high school students.

Read more about the new requirement here

~ Melissa M. 

Idaho Statesman Highlights Successes at Alternative School

The front page of the Idaho Statesman today highlighted one of the many success stories we’ve seen in Idaho’s public education system in recent years.

Canyon Springs High School, the alternative high school in Caldwell, has made the academic goal, known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), for two years in a row. Making AYP is no easy task for any school. To make AYP, schools have to meet 41 different academic achievement indicators every year.

Schools across the state have shown great progress over the past three years. Two-thirds of Idaho public schools met statewide student achievement goals in 2009, up from just one-fourth of Idaho schools in 2007.

For the past two years, Idaho has led the nation for the increase in the number of schools making AYP.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has touted the success of Canyon Springs High School and other schools and districts across Idaho in recent presentations to the Idaho Legislature and other organizations.

Read the full story of Canyon Springs’s success online at

~ Melissa M.

Friday, February 19, 2010

JFAC Votes to Hold Schools Harmless from Mid-Year Cuts

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) voted today to hold schools harmless from mid-year cuts by backfilling $86.6 million into the public schools budget with state rainy day funds and fiscal stabilization funds from the federal stimulus package.

While JFAC’s vote to prevent mid-year cuts will make it easier for schools to get through the current school year, it will make cuts even deeper in FY2011 because funds that would have been available to offset some FY2011 cuts have been used instead in FY2010.  JFAC is scheduled to set the Public Schools Budget for FY2011 on March 1.

~ Melissa M. 

House Republicans, Democrats Announce Bipartisan Effort to Rewrite NCLB

The Washington Post reported Thursday that a bipartisan group of senior Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House will team up to rewrite No Child Left Behind.

In a joint statement, the Reps. George Miller (D-California), Dale E. Kildee (D-Michigan) and Michael N. Castle (R-Delaware) said: “Today, we’re announcing a bipartisan, open and transparent effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind – a law that we all agree is in need of major reform.”

Click here to read the full joint statement.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is also involved in the rewrite of No Child Left Behind at the national level. In 2009, he was appointed to serve on the Council of Chief State School Officers’ committee for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind is the 2001 law that increased accountability in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by requiring public schools to meet certain measurable student achievement goals for all students. Congress is expected to address the reauthorization of the law soon.

The Council of Chief State School Officers created the 18-member ESEA Reauthorization Task Force to work directly with the White House and members of Congress on the Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The task force will hold its first meeting this week in Washington, D.C.

Superintendent Luna worked extensively with the No Child Left Behind Act when he was appointed to serve as a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige from 2003 to 2005.

"No Child Left Behind reminds me of the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly because there is something of everything in there," Superintendent Luna has said. "My goal is to make sure we preserve the good parts of the law, remove the bad parts and change the ugly parts. In the end, I hope the reauthorized No Child Left Behind will offer more flexibility for rural states like Idaho and recognize students' academic progress as well as their proficiency on statewide assessments."

Learn more about the ESEA Reauthorization Task Force or read the full Washington Post article online here. 

~Melissa M. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Supt Luna Joins Crapo, Students in Teen Dating Violence Prevention Efforts

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna joined U.S. Senator Mike Crapo and teens, educators, parents and advocates from across Idaho for a policy roundtable today to discuss the prevention of digital dating abuse and “sexting” in adolescent relationships

Teen dating violence is a real issue in the state of Idaho. According to the most recent data, 11 percent of Idaho students were hit, slapped or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend during the previous year. Ten percent have been forced to have sex when they did not want to.

In the ever-changing virtual world, digital media does play a role. In 2009, 17.7 percent of Idaho students were electronically bullied through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, web sites or text messaging.

In his remarks to the group, Superintendent Luna explained that the Idaho State Department of Education is working with community partners to address the issue and is continuing to make progress.

The Department has developed partnerships, such as Start Strong Idaho, which is a collaborative effort among the Department, St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, and other youth and health care organizations.

In addition, through the state’s Safe & Drug-Free School Programs, the Department has focused heavily on creating healthy school climates that establish a norm of respect in every school across Idaho. This includes clear policies around student interactions and programs that increase self-confidence and establish boundary-setting in relationships.

One example is the Department’s efforts to expand Rachel’s Challenge to Idaho schools. Rachel’s Challenge is a school-wide program that encourages Idaho students to step up and prevent bullying, harassment and other types of violence before they start. Last year, the Department provided more than $50,000 in grants to 40 public schools to implement the Rachel’s Challenge program.

Catherine Pierce with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women said Idaho has developed some groundbreaking programs involving teens in prevention efforts. In the past four years, the Idaho teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Project has made more than 550 presentations to 15,000 teens across Idaho. Pierce called that “truly extraordinary.”

“Teens working with parents and educators must be part of the solution,” she said.

Superintendent Luna told the group that ultimately the prevention of teen dating violence and all violence and intimidation among students is a community problem and requires a community solution.

“It is everyone’s responsibility – communities, schools, youth organizations, faith-based organizations, parents, and teens to work together to prevent teen dating abuse,” he said. “We never want to look back and ask, ‘Could we have done more? Should we have done more?’”

To learn more, please visit the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence web site or learn more about the That’s Not Cool campaign.

~ Melissa M.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Go On Idaho! FAFSA Day is Feb. 20

Need help finding financial aid for your post-secondary education? Plan to attend Go On, Idaho! FAFSA day, which will be held Saturday February 20, 2010.

FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the portal through which most available help flows for students.

Now is the time to fill out FAFSA forms, says Dana Kelly, Student Affairs Program Manager for the Idaho State Board of Education. “All of our state scholarships must have a completed FAFSA,” Kelly said.

The Go On Idaho! FAFSA Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time at more than 20 regional sites simultaneously throughout the state.  View a complete list of the sites and times are available online.

High school guidance counselors, college and university financial aid directors from both public and private institutions, various education stakeholders along with staff from the Office of the State Board of Education have worked together to make this event a reality. 

~Melissa M. 

Education Committees Discuss Public Schools Budget

Before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) is scheduled to begin setting the Public Schools Budget on March 1st, the chairmen of the House and Senate Education Committees have been asked to testify before JFAC next week about the budget proposal.

This morning, the House Education Committee discussed Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s FY 2011 budget proposal and what comments the committee wanted Chairman Bob Nonini to present to JFAC. The committee discussed the budget for about 45 minutes today and will continue the discussion on Wednesday, February 17.

The Senate Education Committee plans to take up the budget discussion this afternoon at 3 pm MST. Superintendent Luna will be in attendance to answer any questions the committee might have. You can listen live at by clicking on the link to the Senate Education Committee room.

- Camille W.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Bill Would Pilot Incentives for Early Grads

New Bill Would Pilot Incentives for Early Grads

Representatives Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Branden Durst, D-Boise, proposed an interesting idea in the House Education Committee today. They introduced the Mastery Advancement Pilot Program bill, which would provide financial incentives for Idaho students who graduate early from high school.

Under the legislation, an Idaho student could earn an additional $1,600, on average, for each year he or she graduates early. The local district would earn the same amount. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has said he supports the legislation because it is a pilot program.

Since taking office in 2007, Superintendent Luna has worked to remove any barriers to students who want to graduate early and to provide additional opportunities of advancement for students.

In the past year, Superintendent Luna, with approval from the State Board of Education and Idaho Legislature, has given local districts the flexibility to grant students credit if students can demonstrate mastery in a subject area, rather than credits solely based on seat time.  In addition, the State Department of Education has revised Board rule to ensure middle school students have the chance to earn high school credit if they take advanced courses in the middle grades.

Based on a proposal by Superintendent Luna, the state also worked to increase dual-credit course offerings statewide for high school juniors and seniors. In 2008, the Dual Credit Task Force developed the framework for implementing a successful statewide plan. The plan was included in Idaho’s application for the federal Race to the Top grant funding. The Idaho Education Network will also help make dual-credit courses more available to students by connecting students in every corner of Idaho to Idaho’s colleges and universities and programs like Idaho Digital Learning Academy.

House Bill 493 introduced this morning is another step in this direction.  Under the bill, up to 1,500 Idaho students would pilot the Mastery Advancement Scholarship. Students would be awarded the scholarship if they complete all the necessary high school graduation requirements at least one year early.

Currently, the state pays Idaho districts a certain amount based on average daily attendance for each student every year. Under the pilot program, students and districts would receive incentives if a student graduates early. Students would receive 35 percent of their school district’s annual average daily attendance rate, with 35 percent also being dispersed to the school district, and the remaining 30 percent being remitted back to the state General Fund.

The House Education Committee sent the bill to the full House.

House Bill 493 can be read in full online at

~ Melissa M. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Statewide Systems of Support Presentation to Senate Education Committee

The State Department of Education has received national recognition for its Statewide System of Support in recent months, Dr. Marybeth Flachbart, Deputy Superintendent of Student Achieve and School Improvement at the Department told members of the Senate Education Committee this afternoon.

No Child Left Behind requires every state to have a statewide system of support that ensures the necessary supports are in place at every level of the educational system so students are getting the help they need to reach their full potential. Several states are now looking to Idaho for its quality and innovative Statewide System of Support, and Idaho will be the subject of a research-based case study.  

Dr. Flachbart presented on Idaho’s Statewide System of Support with Dr. Lisa Kinnaman from Boise State’s Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies.

Idaho’s Statewide System of Support focuses on the instructional core, teachers and students in the presence of content.  Dr. Flachbart told the committee, “You can put the best teachers up against the weakest system, and the system will win every time. So we’re out to change the system.”  This is done through a range of services.

1. Ways to Improve School Effectiveness (WISE Tool)- an online strategic planning tool that allows for input from executive coaches and the State Department of Education.  It also includes professional development and onsite technical assistance.  Currently, 74 districts and 403 schools are registered on the WISE Tool.

2. Idaho Building Capacity Project- provides onsite executive coaching by retired distinguished educators.  There are currently 91 sites across Idaho.

3. Focus Visits- visit to districts by experts who observe instruction in every classroom; collect data during classroom observation; interview 60% of instructional staff; focus groups with students, teachers, parents, and non-instructional staff; and then triangulate data and make recommendations.

4. Idaho Superintendents’ Network- voluntary opportunity for superintendents to come together and discuss their role in improving the quality of instruction.  Currently, there are 30 superintendents participating.

5. Response to Intervention- prevention model that provides immediate intensive intervention for students who show signs of struggling.

6. Lighthouse Project- training for school board trustees that focuses on their role as leaders in the school district.

7. Instructional Leadership Training- webinar series on 9 Characteristics of Highly Effective Schools.

8. Virtual professional development- research-based professional development courses are now offered online via Idaho Digital Learning Academy so all Idaho teachers and administrators have access to the necessary professional development, no matter where they live.

-Camille W.

Roundup of News on Land Board Vote

The Land Board's approval of a $22 million one-time distribution was widely covered in media outlets across the state today.  Here's a roundup of the day's news on the issue, including editorials:

 ~ Melissa M.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Land Board Approves $22 Million in Additional Funds for Idaho Schools

In a 3-2 vote, the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners approved $22 million in additional revenues for Idaho’s public schools for the upcoming school year.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna had initially proposed a transfer of $52.8 million from the Public Schools Earnings Reserve Fund, overseen by the Land Board, to help offset deeper cuts to Idaho’s schools in a tough economic year.

The Land Board did not approve Superintendent Luna’s motion for the $52.8 million transfer or his follow-up motion for a transfer of $42 million.

After a two-hour meeting, Superintendent Luna, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa voted to approve a $22 million transfer. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Controller Donna Jones voted against the motion. 

“I am grateful to the Governor and Secretary of State for supporting a one-time distribution. It’s $22 million more than we had yesterday for Idaho’s public schools, but I am disappointed because I believe we left a lot of money on the table,” Superintendent Luna said. “When you are looking at cutting the public schools budget up to $160 million, every dollar is critical.”

“Hopefully, other people are doing the same thing we have done and looking under every rock and shaking every tree to find additional sources of revenue,” Superintendent Luna said. “We cannot just focus on how much we are going to cut. We also have to look at other sources of revenue and what we are currently spending.”

The Public Schools Earnings Reserve Fund, which currently contains approximately $90 million, distributes $31 million to public schools each year.  The approved $22 million one-time distribution will be in addition to the existing $31 million distribution to schools, leaving a balance of approximately $62 million after the deposit of FY2011 revenues. 

~ Melissa M. 

Idaho Math Initiative Presentation to House Education Committee

This morning the House Education Committee heard presentations on the Idaho Math Initiative and Apangea Math from Cindy Johnstone, Math Coordinator for the State Department of Education; Jonathan Brendefur, Boise State University; and Glen Zollman, Apangea.

The Math Initiative is a three-prong approach to increasing student achievement in math across Idaho: student achievement, teacher education, and public awareness.  Johnstone began by sharing anecdotes about teachers who can’t sleep at night because they are so excited about what’s happening with math in their classrooms and students won’t leave the classroom for recess because they are engaged in problem solving. 

Brendefur shared information about the Mathematical Thinking for Instruction (MTI) course with the committee.  The MTI Course is a three-credit course that gives Idaho teachers and administrators best practices and teaching strategies to help students excel in math.  The course has generated a lot of excitement among teachers about how they teach math.  Brendefur shared that he encourages teachers to start with contextual problems to engage students and that problem solving is about the process, not necessarily the final answer.  There’s often more than one right way to solve a math problem.

Finally, Zollman shared data surrounding Apangea, the online math intervention tool, with the committee.  During the first five months of this school year, more students have used Apangea than the total number of students that used Apangea all last year.  Currently 85 of Idaho’s 115 school districts are actively using Apangea, and the students are enjoying it so much they’re using Apangea at home on evenings and weekends.  In fact, Idaho students have logged 28,000 hours at home in the last 5 months.  By the end of the year, they are expected to have spent the equivalent of 39 years working on math outside of school time.  The impact is obvious.  Students who have not solved problems on Apangea show a 3.1% average ISAT score improvement, but students who have solved 100 problems or more on Apangea, show an average improvement on ISATs of 5.5%.

“When I look at the success we are having with the Math Initiative, I realize it’s because of our comprehensive plan,” Johnstone said.  “It’s not just about Apangea or just about the MTI class or just about an assessment.  All of the programs are working together for one goal: Increase student achievement and teacher content knowledge through a deeper understanding of the math concepts.”  

The Senate Education Committee will hear a presentation on Apangea this afternoon and the Math Initiative tomorrow afternoon.

-Camille W.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Land Board Meets Wednesday

The Land Board is holding a special meeting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 10th to discuss and vote on Superintendent Luna's proposal for a one-time distribution of $52.8 million from the Public Schools Earnings Reserve Fund for FY2011.

Idaho's public schools are facing a shortfall of at least $135 million in the upcoming school year.  This one-time distribution will make an unmanageable budget situation for schools more manageable and also leave a cushion of at least one year's reserve in the Public Schools Earnings Reserve Fund. 

The Land Board is made up of the Governor, Attorney General, State Controller, Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction. The meeting will be held on the 2nd floor of the Borah Building at the corner of 8th and Bannock in Boise.

For further information on Superintendent Luna's budget proposal, visit the Public Schools Budget page.

~ Melissa M.

Meet the Authors

Welcome to the Education Idaho blog! We’re excited to keep you updated on all things education. Melissa McGrath and Camille Wells will serve as the primary authors on this blog right now. Here’s a little bit more about them…

Hi, I’m Melissa, and currently serve as Communications Director for the State Department of Education. I joined the Department staff in 2007 and previously worked as a newspaper reporter, including a stint at the Idaho Statesman. I grew up in Meridian, Idaho and am a proud graduate of Eagle High School (Go Mustangs!) and the University of Maryland (Go Terps!). You can reach me off-the-blog on Twitter @melissarmcgrath or at 

Hi, I'm Camille.  I currently serve as Program Specialist in the Communications and Government Affairs Division.  I grew up in Burley, Idaho and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in political science before joining the Department in 2008.  You can reach me at

Welcome to Education Idaho!

Welcome to Education Idaho, the State Department of Education’s new blog that focuses on keeping Idaho’s educators, parents and patrons informed about what’s happening in public education across the state and nation.

Since I took office as State Superintendent in 2007, my staff and I have strived to create a more customer-driven education system that meets the needs of the customers of education – parents and students – by first and foremost providing them with the highest level of customer service and technical assistance.  We have already made strides to reach out to more people through an electronic newsletter, an updated web site and social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter.  Education Idaho is one more step in that direction.

From the public schools budget to classroom success stories, Education Idaho will feature a variety of stories and the opportunity for you to ask questions and share your ideas.  We hope you will find Education Idaho helpful and informative.


Tom Luna
Superintendent of Public Instruction