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Idaho: Hero Superintendents Say No to the Albertson Foundation

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A few days ago, I added Boise superintendent Don Coberly to the blog’s honor roll because of his forthright opposition to a campaign intended to discredit public education. It turns out that the superintendent and every member of his school board signed on to a joint response to the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation’s efforts to diminish public regard for public education.


Superintendent Coberly was not alone.


A long list of Idaho superintendents also spoke out and I now add them to this blog’s honor roll. They spoke out against a well-funded campaign to slander the public schools of the state and thereby to persuade the public to support privatization.


The Idaho-based Albertson Foundation has run a propaganda campaign called “Don’t Fail Idaho,” attacking the SAT scores of the public schools. The superintendents have issued statements supporting their schools against this campaign of misinformation.


Here is a great statement by Superintendent Wendy Johnson of the Kuna School District. It includes graphs that show the plans of the district’s graduates. (Added bonus: She quotes yours truly. Smart woman! Well-read, too!)


Here is another statement, signed by 13 superintendents.


They wrote:


In recent weeks, many of your readers may have seen an advertisement presented by the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign which dramatically drops four Idaho students in the middle of the desert and leaves them there with one student left on the bus, forlornly waving to those that were “left behind.” The claim of this advertisement is that four out of five students are not prepared for life after high school.


As superintendents of many schools in this area, we feel it is important to defend our districts against a blatant attempt to undermine support for the public school system that serves this area. The “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign and its parent organization, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, have based their claims on SAT data which is a predictor of a student’s performance in the first semester of their first year in a four-year institution. This data is tremendously narrow and does not reflect what is happening in our schools and with our students.


Our students leave our high school campuses and embark on multiple career and college paths. Some choose junior colleges. Some choose two-year technology programs. Some attend technical schools and academies. Some start their own businesses or attend management schools. The SAT has no predictive power for these viable avenues. Those that choose a four-year university may be subject to those national statistics, but we teach our students that they can beat those odds every day, and they do.


In just the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year, 10 of our high schools had 1,082 students enrolled in dual credit courses through Idaho State University earning 3,577 credits in that time. That is only a portion of what we offer our students. We also offer courses from CSI, CWI, BSU, and U of I, not to mention the AP and professional technical certificate bearing courses. In addition, according to the NAEP (the nation’s report card), Idaho ranks higher than 22 other states in math and reading for 2015.


Is there room for improvement in our schools? Certainly. We embrace that challenge and continue in our commitment to improve our schools and the experience that our students gain while attending. While we recognize the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and its dedication to helping students in Idaho succeed, we ask that the foundation ceases this divisive campaign and support Idaho’s students in a way that does not cut down the very teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of the students in Idaho. Growth and economic development in Idaho is dependent upon all of us working together. We ask that the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation work with us in our efforts to educate all students.


If the “Don’t Fail Idaho” organization continues to drop those students in the desert, rest assured that our districts will pick up those remaining students and place them at the doorstep of their pathway to a successful future.



Wayne Rush, another Idaho superintendent, released his own statement:



My first reaction when I saw the ad was to yell at the television. What would bring anyone to produce advertisements declaring that 80 percent of Idaho’s teens are not prepared for life after high school? If you have not seen the ad, it shows a school bus carrying five students, four are left at the side of the road somewhere in Idaho’s desert and one remains on the bus. The announcer says, “4 out of 5 Idaho teens aren’t prepared for life after high school. If we don’t work together to change education we are all going nowhere.” The logo “Don’t Fail Idaho” appears. When you go to their website, you find that the Idaho Business for Education (IBE) and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation (JKAF) are misusing SAT data and a State Board of Education goal to make this ridiculous claim.


It makes me very sad that the J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation is undermining Idaho’s public education and the state as whole to promote its agenda. I worked for the JKAF for more than six years and know the love and commitment that Joe and Kathryn Albertson had for Idaho’s youth. They and their family have given so much to our state and I am forever grateful. However, this campaign leaves me perplexed as to why they would twist data to put Idaho, our schools, teachers, and our youth in the worst possible light.


The College Board (which produces the SAT) and universities that use these scores have never made the claim that not reaching a benchmark score on the SAT means you are not prepared for life after high school. The College Board states, “The SAT Benchmark score of 1550 is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first-year GPA of B minus or higher at a four-year college.” A test is one predictor of college success, but not the best. The courses our students take like dual credit and career and technical courses (such as auto, business, and engineering) are much better predictors of success after high school.


I am proud of our community, parents, students, teachers, and staff for the efforts each has made in providing a high quality education here in Gem County. Our staff works every day in preschool through high school to prepare our students for a successful future. They are continually improving teaching and learning for the advancement of our students.


These SAT scores come from a recent effort by Idaho and the Emmett School District to increase the number of students that are going on to some form of post-secondary education, whether trade school, two-year, or four-year college. The state now requires students to take a college entrance exam, like the SAT to graduate from high school. The state will pay for all juniors to take the SAT assessment and 88 percent of Idaho’s juniors are now taking this exam. Emmett School District has chosen to have the entire junior class take the exam. This is a great step to encourage students to attend postsecondary education and to help us align our curriculum to ensure students are college and career ready.


We gain a lot of good information from this assessment. This fall, our teachers dove deeply into the results to discover areas where we need to improve. It also allows our students to see how they perform compared to average scores from students enrolled in colleges and universities they are interested in attending.


It does make a difference when school districts and our state make bold moves to improve education. The College Board reported that in Idaho, “In 2013, 1,740 students met the benchmark. In 2015 that number of successful students more than doubled, with 4,250 meeting the benchmark.” We ought to be proud of the progress we are making not running advertisements saying we are failing.


To prepare students for life after high school, our teachers provide college-level, dual credit courses for our high school students. Just this fall, our students completed 168 courses earning 504 college credits through the University of Idaho, Boise State University, Northwest Nazarene University, and the College of Idaho. They were successful in courses such as college level math, chemistry, psychology, medical terminology, biology, history, and political science. We have had many students complete over 30 college credits before they graduate from Emmett High School. These students are clearly ready for college.


In addition, our students are participating in clubs, drama, music, sports, as well as many other community activities and events that help prepare them for life after high school. Our high school won first place in 3A State Football this fall and our girls just took 3rd place in the state basketball tournament. These students are learning what they can accomplish through grit and team work.


Idaho, our teachers and staff, and our students are not failing Idaho. We roll up our sleeves every day and work hard to prepare for a bright future.


Ironically, some of these statements were published in the Idaho Education News, which is funded by the Albertson Foundation.


Another irony, Joe Albertson, who founded the grocery store chain that is the basis of the family fortune, was a 1925 graduate of Caldwell High School in Caldwell, Idaho. A public school.

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