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Education news from the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

$1 Million Grant Funds WSU Extension ‘Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth’ Project

Exciting news: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that Washington State University will develop and run the People's Garden School Pilot Program which will serve an estimated 2,800 students attending 70 elementary schools in Washington, New York, Iowa and Arkansas. The Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth pilot is an innovative strategy to help our nation win the future through improved K-12 education. It explores the impact of school gardens on learning and on changing student consumption patterns so they make healthier food choices.

Greg Mortenson packs ‘em in

Greg Mortenson, the author of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" drew a crowd of at least 4,000 to Gonzaga University's McCarthey Athletic Center — on a night when this basketball-obsessed college was playing an Elite Eight women's game right down the road.

It was exhilarating and refreshing to see so many people perfectly aware that some things are more important than sports, namely, empowering people in Pakistan and Afghanistan through education. That's what Mortenson does with his Central Asia Institute. They have built 178 schools, mostly for educating girls.

It was an inspiring night, but not necessarily because Mortenson is a dynamic and polished speaker. He's not. I would describe him more as heartfelt and sincere. He admits he's no born speaker. But that's one reason I have been so impressed with him, both in an interview I did with him last week and in Monday's GU talk.

He doesn't have any of the smooth slickness of a politician, a huckster or an evangelist. He's just a guy who thought he saw something that needed doing, and kept doing it until he got it done. And then he kept doing it after that.

If you missed the speech — maybe you were watching a certain basketball game — I would encourage you to get a copy of "Three Cups of Tea" (and after that, "Stones Into Schools"). His story is told more thoroughly there — and it's a story that may change the way you think about the world.

Here's one of his insights: Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you end up educating  the whole village 

Greg Mortenson on the military

I just finished interviewing Greg Mortenson, the co-author of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools." I have tremendous admiration for him and his work building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and I have written an extensive story for Saturday's paper.

But I didn't have enough space to include all of the topics we discussed, including this fascinating one: His changing perception of America's military.

 Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

"In 'Three Cups of Tea,' I was fairly critical of the military. I said they were all laptop warriors. … But my opinion of the military has really changed. The military really gets it. …

"Because many of our troops have been on the ground three or four times, of all of our government entities, the military understands and has an awareness of respecting the elders and building relationships and listening to the people. There has been a huge learning curve."

In fact, the military sought him out as an adviser on how to effectively build relationships with the Afghan people. 

He'll be speaking at Gonzaga University on Monday at 7 p.m. Tickets available through TicketsWest.

Some writers should check their work

When processing a letter that derides teachers in the public schools, it's often tempting to publish it as is — without correcting spelling or punctuation.  This one arrived today:


I believe if you want any clue to how well the teachers union and their members are doing teaching our children all you have to do is see how many are making a passing grade in their class's, how many are dropping out of school and how many can make the grade to get into a college!!!! Enough said, we need better teachers not more money in the school system!

The ten states running out of smart people

There are several states in the U.S. that are losing the eduction race to most of the others. In the past decade, these states have declining math and reading scores, lower numbers of people with bachelor’s degrees, and comparatively fewer residents who hold white collar jobs.

Colorado, Michigan, and eight others are losing this competition to states who have residents that are better educated and who have done a better job obtaining higher quality jobs. These failing states have lost ground compared to the national average.

The recent State of the Union address, and almost any sweeping political speech or document that writes or speaks about unemployment and future competition for jobs, impresses the point that a well educated workforce–a smart workforce–has comparative advantages. Read more.

Guess what state is #4? That's right. Idaho:

In 2000, 84.7% of adults in Idaho had completed high school. By 2009, the number had dropped to 83.3%. This decrease of 1.71% is the third worst rate in the country. Idaho had the eighth worst percent difference in residents with bachelor’s degrees from 2000 to 2009, and the sixth worst percent difference in residents with advanced degrees.

Do you think anyone in the legislature is paying attention to stories like this?

H/T Christa Hazel



Hillyard Mann Center clarification

At this morning's meeting in the Historic Hillyard Merchants Committee it was brought up that Spokane Public Schools will put in an alternative high school program at the Mann Center. I just checked with Spokane Public Schools and that's not correct. Spokane Public Schools does not own the building and has no plans - as of right now - to put a program there. There were some plans to pursue this idea in spring of last year, but so far nothing has come of it.

WA Lege Day 23: Gov v. SPI on education

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire made the pitch to unify the state's school systems from preschool to gradulate degrees under her office, even if it means getting rid of the state's elected school chief.

"This is not about one governor…This is about having one system," Gregoire said in supporting a bill that would allow her to appoint a cabinet-level secretary of Education and create a department that encompasses all learning prorgrams in state schools and colleges.

The current Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, made the pitch to keep an elected education leader.  "We need to do more. But I won't sit here and say the system is broke."

The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee is considering several bills that would make major changes in school systems, including Gregoire's plan to consolidate all education under a gubernatorial appointee, and a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the office of SPI.

Some members of the Senate panel seemed critical of Gregoire's plan, wondering if it would create another mega agency like the Department of Social and Health Services. Not so, the governor said; DSHS has about 18,000 people, the education department she's proposing would have about 700.

Other members were critical of the current system. People complain the SPI's office "is like a dinosaur that can't be moved," Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines said, while the dropout rates get worse and the achievement gap broadens.

Things need to be fixed, Dorn conceded, but the Legislature needs to accept some of the responsibility for the current problems. "We are cutting education," he said.

But it's not solely about money, Chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, countered. The state has spent more on various programs over the years, but "there are many pieces that are still broken."

Most speakers told the panel that some reform was necessary. But they disagreed sharply whether putting all education systems in one office, led by a governor's appointee, was the right reform.

The state needs the independent voice that a separately elected education official provides, Marie Sullivan of the state's association of school directors said. A member of the governor's cabinet can't speak against the governor's budget if he or she doesn't think it's adequate for education, Sullivan said.

But Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the office, said the governor is recognizable in a way the education superintendent is not; putting the governor in charge of education would create a tool needed to improve it.

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center said the governor needs the authority to make changes and by appointing the person in charge of all the state's education systems, voters "can better hold her accountable for improving education."

Gregoire proposes education czar

Gov. Chris Gregoire explains proposals for education and higher education at a press conference Wednesday.

OLYMPIA — All of Washington's education systems and programs, from preschool through graduate degrees at universities, should be working together and overseen by a single office, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday.

Gregoire proposed creating the cabinet position of Secretary of Education — appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature — and placing responsibility for the many “silos” of education at all age levels into that office. That would include the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a constitutionally mandated official, elected by voters every four years, just as the governor is.

The state could eliminate the elective position, or keep it and have the OSPI report to the Education Secretary, Gregoire said at a morning press conference. “I'm comfortable either way.”

The current occupant of that office, Randy Dorn, is not comfortable with the idea. Wednesday afternoon he suggested it was a power grab by the governor…

MT student won’t be expelled over gun

GUNS — A Columbia Falls High School student who inadvertently brought an unloaded rifle to school in the trunk of her car will not be expelled, the Associated Press reports.

The school board made its unanimous decision Monday night, and the 16-year-old honor student and varsity cheerleader was allowed back in class today.

The junior was suspended Dec. 1 after contraband-sniffing dogs were brought to school and she told administrators she had forgotten the rifle she put in her trunk after a weekend hunting trip.

Monday’s disciplinary hearing had to be moved to a school gymnasium to accommodate the nearly 150 people who attended, some of whom waved signs criticizing school officials’ handling of the case and decrying federal gun laws.

Dean Chisholm, the board’s vice chairman, said the incident appears to be “an unintentional act by a young lady who regrets it, who understands the policy.”

Teen hunter forgot gun in car, faces expulsion from school

HUNTING — A 16 year-old honor roll student and cheerleader from Columbia Falls, Mont., faces expulson from high school after she told school officials after she arrived for classes that she’d forgotten to remove her hunting rifle from her car after a Thanksgiving weekend hunt.

Even though the rifle was unloaded, in its case and locked in the trunk of her car, and even though she brought the oversight to the attenion of the school authorities, she’s likely to be a victim of the school’s no tolerance policy on guns, according to Mac Minard, Montana Outfitters & Guides Association executive director.

Huckleberries story plucker Dave Oliveria has the story.

How does one educate for success?

Good morning, Netizens…

Despite having attended several universities and colleges, I have never particularly been a strong advocate of traditional education as taught in our public schools today. Instead of today’s students being encouraged and aided to learn at their own levels and speed, our system appears to attempt to teach them how to pass the standardized testing programs. Perhaps even worse, although we have a plethora of new-and-improved testing programs, given our dismal teacher-to-student ratios in the classrooms, we are unable to truly teach children effectively.

Then we compound the errors of the educational system with a societal system of televised entertainment disguised as so-called education. In my day we had kids television fare, such as Captain Kangaroo and other shows that brought education to kids in unorthodox ways, but that had learning content. I’ve looked at television shows that target kids today, and I find very few such educational opportunities. Kids television today contains more fluff, more targeted advertising and less instruction.

I cannot help but recall a true story I related to a friend the other day, about my own personal learning experiences. I was a voracious reader from grade school. By the time I entered High School, I had already read most of the limited fictional works in the high school library, and had already begun reading non-fiction. The net result, unfortunately, was that I began ignoring some of the traditional teaching materials used by our school, relying instead upon a stack of paperback books in my locker I had purchased from the Scholastic Book Club of the time. By my Junior year in high school, I had my own library, and at least had already read the required reading list for college level.

My granddaughters today, by comparison, are forced to read as part of their school curriculum, but do not do so by choice, and in my opinion, were it not for the ongoing home-based education efforts that our family have put into place, I seriously doubt they would achieve success.

I concur with Horsey. Dismal education is no substitute for a hunger for learning.


Discontent in Idaho

As Idaho voters make clear their displeasure with cuts to public education spending, the men running to lead the state’s schools for the next four years are campaigning in relative obscurity.

A poll of 625 people likely to vote in the Nov. 2 election shows that 56 percent think per-pupil spending on K-12 public education is too low. The poll, conducted by The Spokesman-Review and six other daily Idaho newspapers, also shows that 23 percent of voters remain undecided about the race for superintendent of public instruction, possibly because some don’t know who’s running.

While GOP incumbent Tom Luna leads Democratic challenger Stan Olson 47 percent to 30 percent, the poll shows that 18 percent of respondents don’t recognize Luna’s name – giving him by far the lowest name recognition of any incumbent running in a statewide race this year. Olson, the just-retired Boise School District superintendent, is unknown to 53 percent of poll respondents. Full story. Ben Botkin, Times News

Are you happy with public education in Idaho?

Just how far West does the 5th District go?

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers recently assured constituents she was working to make sure the government delivers on its payments to school districts that have large hunks of federally owned land in them, like national parks, military bases or tribal lands.

She sponsored legislation to require the feds to pay up, and promptly, on this so-called impact aid. But in conveying her assurances to constituents, some staffer who drafted the letter (little secret: congresspersons rarely write their own letters) apparently forgot to look closely at the map.

I know first-hand the impact that the budget deficits have had on our schools,” McMorris Rodgerswrites in a Dear Friends letter.  ” Late payments by the Department of Education have only exacerbated the situation in many school districts.  The bill that I am supporting will remedy the chronically late distribution of Impact Aid payments many school districts receive from the Department of Education.  For example, the Oak Harbor school district that I represent received a payment of nearly $1 million to conclude their Impact Aid payments due from Fiscal Year 2006 – three years after the initial award

Oak Harbor? That’s a mountain range and a ferry ride away from the westernmost outpost of Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District. Unless they know something about redistricting that the rest of us don’t.

IFF: School Books Full Of Propaganda

Recent news that Texas education leaders have overhauled textbook requirements has alarmed some educators and politicians. But the news is frightening only if you’re under the false impression that textbooks our kids use are anything close to accurate today. Of course, that’s not the case. Not by a long short. Our children are being fed a steady diet of statist propaganda, and from that, it is little wonder why our country has veered so far to the Left. The design is in the coursework and intentional indoctrination of our children/Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation. More here.

Question: Do you think your children’s textbooks are an accurate reflection of the nation’s history and times? Or are they full of political propaganda, as Wayne Hoffman contends?

State falling short

More details will be forthcoming, but Associated Press just reported that a judge ruled today the state of Washington is not meeting its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education.  That may not surprise anyone, but the big question will be how the state will respond.  In the 1970s another judge made the same ruling, one outcome of which was that local property taxes went down significantly.  In a meeting with the editorial board yesterday, representatives of the state Board of Education noted that more than $2 billion in local special levy money now goes to pay for schools and much of what that money provides is unarguably part of basic education. As in the ‘70s, local taxpayers are paying extra to underwrite what is the state’s paramount constitutional responsibility.  Not likely that we’ll see the state step in and relieve that local tax burden anytime soon, not with the economic difficulties that already challenge Olympia. But it will be fascinating to see how (or if) they respond to this court ruling in a way that lasts.  Obviously the 1970s fix didn’t.

Generation-E: Washington state rocks!

“The Pacific Northwest - greenwashing on campuses since 2009.”
OK - that was harsh.  But a recent article in The Seattle Times spent a good amount of time hyping up local universities and their efforts to “woo” students by touting their “green cred”.  But upon deeper reading, it became pretty evident that universities in Washington state are making it happen.  At the University of Washington, for instance, one of the few departments expanding during a time of budget cuts is the fledgling College of the Environment.  And then there are recent headlines like these: “Western Washington University Students Sweep Awards at Environmental Competition”. “Princeton Review Chooses The Evergreen State College for Its ‘Green Rating Honor Roll’”, and “Seattle University is the greenest green campus in Washington state.”
If we’ve learned anything over the last 20 months or so, it’s that the youth voice and youth perspective is growing in both volume and effectiveness.  For local universities to be able to lure impressionable minds in with greenwashing-like goodies, then give them the tools and opportunity to craft an eco conscious, they are in the position and have the responsiblity to create the change we wall want to see in this world.  Learn more about what local universities are doing HERE. 

So you might have got to this point and said to yourself, “but what about this side of the state?”  Good news!  Washington State University was just recently named as one of the top ten clean-tech universities in the United States.  In a post on WattHead last week, the importance of clean tech was explained; “Universities and colleges have a critical role to play in accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and reclaiming U.S. competitiveness in the global clean-tech race. Universities perform 54 percent of the nation’s basic research, a fundamental building block of the technological innovation we need to spark the clean energy revolution. Universities and colleges are the training ground for the next generation of scientists, engineers, teachers, and leaders in government and industry. And universities are the launching ground for numerous entrepreneurial ventures to bring those innovations to the marketplace.”

Here’s what helped land WSU at #10: With legacy expertise in agriculture, power and applied engineering, WSU’s Clean Technology program is rapidly growing in the cleantech-centric Pacific Northwest. Plant science is the engine behind the opening last year of the Bioproducts Science and Engineering Laboratory, Battelle’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratories and the recently funded Washington State Algae Alliance. One of the main objectives is the commercialization of aviation biofuels with partner Boeing Commercial Airlines. Notable cleantech spinouts: GoNano, Ajuga Biosciences, BioGasol, Schweitzer Engineering Labs, and Integrated Engineering Solutions.
See the rest of the rankings HERE. 


‘Transformational’ education strategy unveiled

Gov. Butch Otter and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna joined business leaders and others at a press conference today to announce a new, broad education strategy for the state, focusing on getting more Idaho kids to go on to post-secondary education, high standards and accountability in public schools, and more. The Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, a group of about 70 CEOs and other business people from throughout the state, brought together education stakeholders in an “Education Alliance” to develop the strategy, dubbed a “transformational education agenda.” “You know you’re on the right track when the teachers and the administrators, the school boards and the parents, the public sector and private industry all come together to focus their collective wisdom, experience and passion on an issue,” Otter said. “I’m happy to be able to facilitate and encourage this effort to create a world-class education system that will enable our students to compete in the global marketplace of ideas.” Otter said the state Board of Education will work with the alliance to try to implement the strategy; you can read the alliance’s full announcement here.

Tastes like home

Montana schoolchildren are locavores—- and they don’t even know it.

As an addendum to our food reform post, check out the great work Missoula County Public Schools are doing to connect kids to organics, serving 43,000 pounds of local food and sauces to Missoula schoolchildren last year. They’ve been drawing national attention as part of the Farm To Schools program, and MCPS Food and Nutrition Services now has a documentary to tell how nutritious and delicious food is prepared for Missoula students.

Green report card

In keeping with our back to school theme for the week, we want to re-direct readers to the Sierra magazine list of “the most-eco-enlightened U.S. colleges” because two-thirds of applicants say a school’s green record would influence their enrollment decision. On the list, University of Washington landed at number two for focusing on local, organic food services and LEED Silver standard for new campus buildings; Evergreen State College has a fleet of electric vehicles and students rallied together for a clean-energy fee, hoping to become waste-free and carbon neutral by 2020. Go here, to read the full report for profiles of 300 schools.

The Post-Obama education talks…

Good morning, Netizens…

O Lord spare us from the idiots we may become through being narrow-minded and ignorant! At least that is what cartoonist David Horsey seems to be saying this morning as we revisit one of his American cartoon families after the kids watched President Obama speaking to them in school yesterday.

If we cannot or will not heed President Obama’s words to our kids yesterday, if the kids are unwilling or unable to heed his words, we are doomed sure as the dickens to raising a generation of idiots.

After a thorough and careful review of his speech yesterday, ie., study hard and go to college, is there any cogent reason kids shouldn’t heed his words? Did anyone see or hear where President Obama tried to sell the kids on Socialist or Communist theories? One of America’s greatest resources upon which our very futures depend so heavily, upon which our very futures rely is that of our PEOPLE in the future.

In short, our kids are our futures. Without critical thinking, and good reading, math and history skills, we are doomed.