For years now, private foundations run by the very, very wealthy have been pouring money into their pet school reform efforts, many of them taking the view that traditional public education is broken and that it should be privatized. Education activists have called out these foundations, but now, in Idaho, it’s the school superintendents who are are speaking out.
They are taking on the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, which consistently portrays traditional public schools in a negative light and pushes for alternatives, and their public statements underscore growing opposition around the country to school reform efforts that support the the privatization of public education.
Don Coberly, superintendent of the Boise School District, led the public opposition to the foundation’s “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign with a February update to district staff that says in part (you can read the full statement below):
Over the last few weeks you may have heard or seen the latest advertisements from the J.A and Kathryn Albertson Foundation’s “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign. Perhaps the most controversial claim is that four out of five Idaho students are not prepared for life after high school. There are four facts we want you to understand about this campaign:
- It promotes an agenda that is designed to undermine public schools.
- It is highly inaccurate.
- It offers no real solutions to increasing post-secondary readiness.
- It is a disservice to the work you do every day for the youth of this district.Undermining public schoolsWhy would someone want to undermine public education in Idaho? The motive is quite clear. At a recent Downtown Rotary Club meeting, the executive director of the Albertson Foundation stated that the goal of the Foundation is to increase charter school seats by 20,000 in the next few years. That will only happen if Idahoans lose faith in their public schools.
Let’s be clear; this campaign promotes an agenda designed to undermine public schools. It is highly inaccurate. It offers no real solutions to increasing post-secondary readiness. It is a disservice to the work public school teachers, parents, and students do every day.
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.
Like many of you, my blood boils every time I hear the Don’t Fail Idaho rhetoric. Yet I have not acted. Would speaking out mean that I might damage future grant possibilities for students and teachers under my care? Would not speaking out continue to demoralize our hardworking educators and erode our community’s trust in us? On one hand, I knew the devastating effects that the negative messaging was having on all of you–the team I have vowed to lead and protect from negative outside forces. On the other hand, I was worried about the negative effect that speaking out might have on our district–on the many hopes and dreams we have for our students; many of which we cannot afford to accomplish alone.
When wrestling with these questions, I was reminded of an instructional unit that I used to teach called the Power of One. The foundational theme of the study for my students was based on the quote from anti-slavery activist Rev. Edward Everett Hale who wrote, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” And with this reminder, I decided that I would tell our district’s story. Students are succeeding in Kuna and in Idaho.
False. Four out of five graduates aren’t prepared for life after high school.
True. 70% of graduates have a plan for further education after high school. The college freshman retention rate for KHS graduates is 77%.
Here’s the full missive from the Boise superintendent: