Saturday, April 21, 2018

Do Washington's "Alternative Learning Experience" programs help students? State audit can't say

Posted By on Sat, Apr 21, 2018 at 12:00 PM


The Washington state Auditor's Office has released a final report on student outcomes in so-called "Alternative Learning Experience" courses — courses, often online, involving some level of instruction away from traditional public school.

The grade? Incomplete.

Citing a lack of available data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the Auditor's Office could not evaluate student success in ALE programs as mandated by the state Legislature in 2013.

"We identified data challenges that meant we were unable to measure student outcomes in a quantitative way," says Kathleen Cooper, spokeswoman for the state Auditor's Office.

In Washington state, more than 30,000 K-12 students attend ALE programs either part time or full time. The programs are funded by the state. Last year, the Inlander reported how for-profit companies came to dominate the landscape of online education in Washington, while delivering poor student outcomes. Those online schools are considered ALE programs.

School districts can attract students to their ALE programs even if the students are from another part of the state, boosting that district's enrollment numbers and sometimes allowing them to balance their budget.

But are those ALE programs effective?

That's a question OSPI and the Auditor's Office can't answer with evidence. It's partly because they're so different, from not only traditional schools, but from each other. An ALE program can be a simple credit-recovery course, or it can be a full-time online school. That makes it harder to separate ALE students from traditional students, since they can be both.

And that means auditors couldn't effectively measure ALE graduation rates or other individual outcomes.

Instead, lacking reliable data, the auditors visited eight ALE programs, held focus groups and surveyed students. Representatives from ALE programs themselves, of course, told the auditors that the programs provided "flexibility" and new approaches to students seeking an alternative to traditional school.

"Our qualitative analysis shows the professionals who work within these programs believe they do help increase individual student success," Cooper says.

This isn't the first time the Auditor's Office pointed out issues with data for ALE programs. Its first report after the 2013 mandate was supposed to assess 2013-14 ALE students. But then, too, it found problems with the data system managed by OSPI called the Comprehensive Education Data and Research System (CEDARS): Of the districts with ALE programs, 65 percent claimed more ALE funding than the actual number of students.

The ALE staff told the state auditors that it was a misunderstanding of reporting requirements. The auditors have recommended that OSPI ensures its CEDARS data is complete and accurate.

Nathan Olson, spokesman for OSPI, says the agency has been working with auditors on this.

"We know there are issues with data, and data collection needs to be improved," Olson says.

The report from the Auditor's Office, he says, showed that collection and reporting of accurate data is the "key stumbling block" to evaluating student success in ALE programs. OSPI says it is taking steps to address the issue, including improved communication on requirements and potentially asking the Legislature for changes to state ALE course definitions.

But OSPI, Olson says, is confident that ALE programs are effective, even without the data.

"I think we acknowledge data would help us get even more information, but we are finding they are effective," Olson says. "More students are taking the courses and they are passing the courses."
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Friday, April 20, 2018

Spokane Valley students walk out to protest gun violence, meet alt-right counter protesters

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 4:06 PM

Shaundra Russell speaks at a rally to protest gun violence in Spokane Valley - WILSON CRISCIONE PHOTO
  • Wilson Criscione photo
  • Shaundra Russell speaks at a rally to protest gun violence in Spokane Valley

In Spokane Valley's Terrace View Park, Shaundra Russell faced a crowd of more than 100 students who had walked out of class in protest of gun violence, ready to cheer her on.

To her right, a group of more than a dozen counter protesters stood with a Trump flag, ready to shout her down.

Russell grabbed the megaphone.

"We are the students of Spokane Valley," began Russell, a junior at Central Valley High School. "And we demand change."

So began the rally organized by University and Central Valley high school students on Friday morning, part of a National School Walkout to call for gun reform. Elsewhere in the Spokane area, Lewis and Clark, North Central and Ferris high school students led a rally at Riverfront Park. Students at Freeman High School, where a school shooting took place in the fall, walked out and gathered on their football field.

At the Spokane Valley walkout, more than a dozen counter protesters attempted to disrupt the rally. Marissa Kenney, a CV student who helped organize the walkout, says in the days leading up to the rally, students who called themselves the "Central Valley Alt-Right" told her they planned to counter protest. Two of them bumped into her in the hallway and harassed the rally organizers online, she says.

"We've been called some things on social media I will not repeat out loud," Kenney says.

Marissa Kenney (left) Shaundra Russell and Dharma Hoy (right) helped organize the walkout - WILSON CRISCIONE
  • Wilson Criscione
  • Marissa Kenney (left) Shaundra Russell and Dharma Hoy (right) helped organize the walkout

During the event, several student speakers spoke in favor of gun control. They handed out packets with ideas to reduce gun violence. The ideas included passing gun laws like gun-violence restraining orders to temporarily bar a person from buying firearms, making buying a gun more like buying a car, investing in smart-gun technology, eliminating funding restrictions for research and ending legal immunity for gun manufacturers.

Russell says there needs to be more mental health counselors in schools to focus on the behavioral and social needs of students. She says a "village of support" should be created for students. If they're at risk of harming themselves or others, then firearms should be immediately removed from the household.

"How many people will die?" Russell asks. "How many more school shootings and suicides will it take before we are going to change?"

Izabella Roullier, a senior at CV, says she doesn't feel safe when she leaves her house to go to school. She said more guns leads to more crime and more deaths.

"Here in our tiny corner of America," Roullier says, "we will not be silenced."

But during each speech, the counter protesters tried to make their own voice heard. They yelled "America first!" and "Keep our guns!" The rally-goers responded with their own chant, "Kids not guns!" drowning out the counter protesters.

CV senior Izabella Roullier speaks during the rally - WILSON CRISCIONE
  • Wilson Criscione
  • CV senior Izabella Roullier speaks during the rally

The counter protesters were led by Trent Carlton, a junior at CV. He wrote in black marker "MAKE WHITE MEN GREAT AGAIN!" on the front of his white T-shirt. The back read "ALT RIGHT" and "HAIL VICTORY" above the symbol for Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group. He shouted the loudest in protest during the speeches and each time the crowd cheered even louder so his voice wasn't heard.

Carlton calls himself a "strong white nationalist." He tells the Inlander that the best way to prevent school shootings is to arm every teacher who wants to volunteer and go through training. He says there should be more armed veterans in schools, yet he also agrees with the idea to put more mental health counselors in schools.

Trent Carlton, a CV student who describes himself as a white nationalist - WILSON CRISCIONE PHOTO
  • Wilson Criscione photo
  • Trent Carlton, a CV student who describes himself as a white nationalist

Sierra Stinson, a University student, says she was upset when she first saw Carlton and his shirt.

"It breaks my heart to see there's still people like him," Stinson says.

But when she and her friend went over and talked to him, they were able to find some common ground, she says.

"He actually agrees with us for most of it," Stinson says. "He believes that we're banning guns, but that isn't what we want. So in the end we're arguing the same thing."

University High School student Sierra Stinson - WILSON CRISCIONE PHOTO
  • Wilson Criscione photo
  • University High School student Sierra Stinson

Spokane Valley City Council member Linda Thompson, who attended the rally, says the best way to enact change to prevent gun violence is to empower the youth to speak out. She was encouraged by the way rallygoers handled the counter protesters.

"It has to start person-to-person," Thompson says. "Nobody is trying to take anybody's guns away. We're trying to protect students and stop the violence in the community."

She urges for the community, and the country, to come together.

"That's the hardest thing: to come together and work together," Thompson says.

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Mother of Sam Strahan speaks in support of gun law reform

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 12:41 PM

Ami Strahan's husband, Scott, carved the family's names into the underside of a swing in their yard. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
  • Young Kwak Photo
  • Ami Strahan's husband, Scott, carved the family's names into the underside of a swing in their yard.

Sometimes people will ask Ami Strahan how many kids she has, but she struggles to answer.

Well, she had two kids. She gave birth to two kids. But now she only has one.
Portrait of Sam Strahan by local artist Carolina Johnson - MITCH RYALS PHOTO
  • Mitch Ryals Photo
  • Portrait of Sam Strahan by local artist Carolina Johnson

"So do I say I have one? Or do I say I had two," she says to a room of about 120 people gathered April 19 at the McGinnity Room downtown. "If I say I had two, how do I explain how I only have one? It's weird, and it's heartbreaking, but it's real."

Strahan's 15-year-old son, Sam, was shot and killed by another student in the halls of Freeman High School last September. Just three months before, her husband died after an accident in their driveway. She was asked to share her story with those gathered at the inaugural event for a new local nonprofit, Art 4 Reform.

The organization was started by two mothers driven to take action after a shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. In February, a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 students and staff and injured several more inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Within about 30 days, Carolina Johnson and Janelle Carney established the nonprofit and scheduled an event to raise money to support gun safety. Proceeds from yesterday evening are going toward Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Carney says.

Portraits of the 17 students and staff members who were shot and killed in a Parkland, Florida, high school. - MITCH RYALS PHOTO
  • Mitch Ryals Photo
  • Portraits of the 17 students and staff members who were shot and killed in a Parkland, Florida, high school.

Before yesterday's event, Johnson painted a portrait of Sam, as well as portraits of each of the 17 victims in Parkland, which were on display.

The day before students across the country prepare to walk out of school to support gun reform and remember shooting victims, Strahan tells the crowd that years ago on her wedding anniversary (which is today), "two boys walked into their high school, and they started killing people. That was Columbine."

She describes the void left by her son and husband, Scott Strahan. She lists the milestones that Sam will miss: homecoming, driver's ed, graduation.

"He never got his braces off," she says. "Which may seen silly, but I never got to see that smile without braces."

Then, motioning to the wall of portraits behind her, she says she's not unique.

"Since that day, so many more students have died while they were at school," she says. "Writing this sounds just absurd to think that kids die going to school."

At the same time, she knows that gun law reform is polarizing, and in particular around assault-style rifles.

The boy who shot and killed Sam brought an AR-15 and several magazines of ammo into Freeman High School in September 2017. The rifle jammed, and the 15-year-old boy shot Sam and three other students with a pistol. The three other students survived.

"I can't be sold on the issue that all of this is related to mental health," she says. "Not every mentally ill person shoots and kills people. So I don't want to categorize mentally ill people that way. And not all people who own guns kill people, right? I think both of those are true, but the common denominator is the gun itself."

She goes on to say that gun owners have a huge responsibility to keep firearms out of the hands of children and those who can't appreciate their potential.

Finally, Strahan addressed the children in the room: "I just want to tell you that you make me really proud, and I'm so relieved that you're paying attention," she says. "Thank you for insisting on what should be the right of every student and becoming socially active in your fight for it.

"You have the right to go to school, have a blast, learn something and be better for it. But I also want to remind you that the great majority of your parents are doing the very best they can. They try really hard, and they're human. We're all human. We make mistakes, we have good days, we have bad days. But at the end of the day, we love our children and you never know when you will get the chance to talk to your parents again. So talk to 'em."

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Ferris High School teacher Mandy Manning named National Teacher of the Year

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 9:45 AM

Mandy Manning - COURTESY OF OSPI
  • Courtesy of OSPI
  • Mandy Manning
Ferris High School teacher Mandy Manning has been named National Teacher of the Year, the Council of Chief State School Officers announced this morning.

Manning, who has been a teacher for 18 years, currently teaches English and math to newly arrived immigrants and refugees at Ferris. As the winner of the award, she will spend a year traveling across the world representing and advocating for teachers. Later this month, she will visit the White House.

"This year I hope to engage the nation in a conversation about how we can encourage students to experience things outside their understanding," Manning says in a news release. "This is the first step in creating a more hopeful, safer and kinder society where everyone can be productive, global citizens."

Manning was already the 2018 Washington Teacher of the Year. In addition to teaching immigrant and refugee students, she also teaches fast-pitch and girls basketball, advises the writing club and co-advises the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says he is "thrilled the rest of the country will have an opportunity to get to know Mandy."

"She is an exemplary leader in our state because of her dedication to each of her students and for her love of continuous learning," Reykdal says. "We have a legacy of excellent teaching in our state that Mandy strengthens with her passion for students."

Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, says Manning "embodies great teaching, dedication, union activism and, most of all, compassion for every student and everyone who is lucky enough to spend time with her."

"Her work welcoming immigrant students is a fundamental building block to their process of becoming U.S. citizens," Mead says.

The winner of the award typically gets to visit the White House and President Donald Trump. Read about what Manning would say to him in our feature story on her from January. Watch a video Spokane Public Schools put together about her classroom here.

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4/20 day news, Comey memos released and other morning headlines

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 9:16 AM

Dude. Nice marmot. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • Dude. Nice marmot.

GREEN ZONE: Our former intern Tuck Clarry reviews the nuances behind improvised bongs.

NEWS: Why Washington state doesn't build condominiums.


Weed spreads

Spokane Valley's big marijuana grow operation gets bigger. (Spokesman-Review)

Channeling grief
Sam Strahan's mom becomes a gun control activist. (Spokesman-Review)

Murder investigation

The roommate of the woman who was found dead on a conveyor belt in Spokane's recycling center turns himself in to police.  (KXLY)

Have you ever tried to whip up enthusiasm for a Democratic midterm... on weed?

Democratic Sen.  Minority Leader Chuck Schumer come out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana. (Washington Post)

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!
Rudy Giuliani looks to join the Trump legal team.  (New York Times)

The Comey memos are out
Do they live up to the hype? (New York Times)

A FarCry from demographically accurate
Vice asks a pivotal question about Montana-set Far Cry 5: Why are there so many black people, but no American Indians? (Vice)

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Earth Day news, Supreme Court hears Washington salmon case and other headlines

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 9:22 AM


It's almost Earth Day and in this week's Green Issue Inlander writers tell you about everything, from how to reduce your impact on the climate, to how farming could help trap carbon dioxide in the soil, to how Hangman Creek could finally get the cleanup it needs.  

Click the link on "how to reduce your impacts" above to learn more about these products meant to be a little friendlier to the planet.
  • Click the link on "how to reduce your impacts" above to learn more about these products meant to be a little friendlier to the planet.
NEWS: He's a man of God and an anti-fossil fuel activist, and he'll get to argue to the court that he had no other choice but to block the train tracks in 2016 to try to stop climate impacts from oil trains that daily make their way through Spokane.


Condon before ethics commission
In a hearing before the Ethics Commission Wednesday, Mayor David Condon denied allegations he lied about why former Police Chief Frank Straub was fired. (Spokesman-Review)

Washington salmon case hits Supreme Court
Washington state argues it shouldn't have to replace road culverts that block salmon migration as required by a court decision from a suit filed by Northwest tribes. But it didn't look like the U.S. Supreme Court would side with the state after hearing the case Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Riddled with errors
Chicago's database of suspected gang members is likely in need of some serious cleanup: ProPublica reports that more than 160 people in the data base are in their 70s and 80s, and a few are supposedly more than 100 years old. (ProPublica)

Former WSU associate athletic director left amid sexual harassment complaints
John Lucier, who settled with Washington State University for $31,000 and left his job last year, used inappropriate language in the workplace and violated other Title IX rules, according to investigative reports. (The Daily Evergreen)

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Gun reform events in Spokane, plus Barbara Bush dies and other headlines

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 9:27 AM


NEWS: Two local mothers are taking action to prevent gun violence by raising funds for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. They are hosting an event on Thursday through their nonprofit Art 4 Reform.

NEWS: Also scheduled for Wednesday (today), the father of a Sandy Hook shooting victim will be at Gonzaga to discuss his efforts as a neuroscientist to understand violent behavior.

"When we were faced with this infinite heartbreak, we decided to take a scientific approach to see if we could fund studies understanding the risk factors and changes in the brain that leads to violence,” he says.


Bye-bye, Barbara...
First Lady and First Mother Barbara Bush dies at the age of 92. (The New York Times)

The Two Koreas
South Korean officials confirmed that they are in talks with North Korea to formally end the Korean War, which began more than 60 years ago. Nuclear disarmament will likely be a major factor in the negotiations. (The New York Times)

News also surfaced that CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un during the Easter weekend. (Vox)

No School Left Unevaluated
New changes to Washington state education will now allow “parents to look up every test score at their children’s school and compare them to other schools in the district and the state” according to the Spokesman-Review. The change will help individual schools better understand what improvements they need to make, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said. (Spokesman-Review)

Des Moines deportation
Federal authorities are (once again) trying to cancel DACA protections against a man arrested in Des Moines. Daniel Ramirez Medina, 25, was picked up last year and placed in deportation proceedings despite his participation in DACA. Though he has committed no crime, he was among the first people in the program arrested after Trump took office. (Associated Press)

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sandy Hook father, a neuroscientist, comes to Spokane on Wednesday to speak about violence

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 4:23 PM

  • Courtesy of Jeremy Richman
  • Jeremy Richman

It's been more than five years since Jeremy Richman and his wife Jennifer Hensel lost their 6-year-old daughter, Avielle Richman, in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Ever since, they've dedicated themselves to combating violence. They started The Avielle Foundation shortly after their daughter's death, supporting research into neuroscience to help understand violence.

"My wife and I are scientists," Richman tells the Inlander. "When we were faced with this infinite heartbreak, we decided to take a scientific approach to see if we could fund studies understanding the risk factors and changes in the brain that leads to violence."

Richman will be in Spokane on Wednesday to speak at Gonzaga about how society can work to understand violence. Richman was invited by Our Kids: Our Business, a network of dozens of agencies looking out for the well-being of children, as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Recent school shootings have sparked a national conversation about gun control and mental health. What's missing from that national conversation is a focus on understanding the brain science leading to what Richman calls "abnormal" behaviors that are acts of violence. On one side, you have people advocating for gun control. On the other hand, he says, you have people saying "guns don't kill people, people kill people," advocating for mental health support.

Richman says that saying should be finished: People kill people, with guns. Both mental health and gun control should be looked at, he says.

"We need to get away from black and white thinking," he says.

Nobody should ignore how firearms are "lethal forms of destruction," Richman says. At the same time, mental illnesses need to be better understood before they potentially manifest in violent ways.

Continue reading »

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Mother of Sam Strahan to speak at Art 4 Reform event to support gun safety

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 11:05 AM

Students walk out of Lewis and Clark High School to protest gun violence.
  • Students walk out of Lewis and Clark High School to protest gun violence.

After a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and injured 17 more, local artist and mother Carolina Johnson thought, "Enough!"

Sparked by that "enough moment," Johnson and her friend, Janelle Carney, formed the nonprofit Art 4 Reform in about a month, with the idea of using art as a vehicle for change.

"We had a vision of trying to move people," says Carney, a local lawyer. "We're trying to change the focus back to safety and that children are dying at an alarming rate."

The two moms have already scheduled their first event to raise funds for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, both groups that support gun control and safety. The event this Thursday, April 19, will be held at the McGinnity Room downtown at 116 W. Pacific Ave.

Johnson painted portraits of each of the 17 victims in the Parkland shooting and one of Sam Strahan, who was shot and killed by a 15-year-old student inside Freeman High School. Sam's mother, Ami Strahan, will speak at the event. Admission is free, and about 120 people have RSVP'd so far, Carney says. But they're prepared for many more.

Guests can make donations and bid on thousands of dollars in raffle items including wine, coffee, beer, clothing, fitness club memberships and more. The portraits will not be for sale. Rather, Carney says, they will be donated and could become part of an exhibit that travels across the country.

"It was an easy decision to make responsible gun ownership the focus of our first event," Carney says. "When we look at the faces of these victims, it strikes a chord. I want to empower people to act: If we don't like what is happening, then we need to come together and do something about it."

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Hannity's big reveal, Trump's rejection of Russian sanctions and morning headlines

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 9:21 AM

  • Jorge Silva/Pool via The New York Times

NEWS: Hundreds showed up downtown Spokane on Saturday for the second March for Science.

ARTS & CULTURE: The new Best of Broadway Spokane season was announced yesterday, and it includes favorites like The Lion King, Les Miserables and Finding Neverland.


Painkiller killers
Spokane County will decide today whether or not to join a nationwide lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. The suit accuses the manufacturers of knowingly lying about the addictive potential of opioids. (Spokesman-Review)

"Great kid, great teammate'
The Medical Lake community is honoring the 17-year-old girl, a member of the track team, killed this weekend in a car crash. One other girl who was in the car is in critical condition. (KXLY)

Life, liberty and the pursuit of yard sales
Spokane City Council will allow you to have just a couple more garage sales this year. The council unanimously passed changes to city law allowing up to four garage or yard sales a year. (Spokesman-Review)

Hannity: revealed
In a court hearing related to the materials seized from President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, it was revealed that Cohen also represented a high-profile member of the media, one who has repeatedly defended Trump on-air over the Russia investigation. Cohen's client? Sean Hannity. (Washington Post)

Pleasing Putin
Two days ago, it appeared the Trump administration would impose Russian sanctions against the companies that helped Syria's chemical weapons program. Yesterday, Trump rejected those sanctions. (New York Times)

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