Friday, September 26, 2014

Standardized tests, the death knell of American economic dominance?

By Robert Vian, School District #171 Superintendent

The current debate about Idaho Common Core and the change from Idaho Academic Standards Test (ISAT) is the wrong debate. While Common Core tests will require much more rigor in the classroom and are far superior to the old standards, they are just another standardized test. We should be discussing the impact of standardized tests on America’s ability to produce creative resourceful, imaginative, and talented individuals that will be needed for the nation to continue our dominant status in the world as an economic power.

A couple of historically significant events have created the slippery slope that education in Idaho and the nation attempts to stand upon.

The first was the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s and the launch of the first artificial earth satellite, Sputnik, by the Soviet Union in 1957. The U.S. suffered apoplectic shock, “How was a communist nation able to best a technological superpower like the U.S. in the race to be first into space?” When the Soviets also had the first man in space the sting was even deeper.

Politicians and educational experts started looking for explanations to describe the “failures in education.” Surveys of educational systems in industrialized nations in 1960 indicated that the U.S. math student ranked 12th in the world. No wonder we lost the “space race,” we were sliding into oblivion, how could the U.S. be a world power with math scores like that?

A second partially related event fueled the slide. Educational funding was erratic, while some schools had rich tax bases, others were not so wealthy. Educational advocates started campaigning for a level field (read this to mean equal funding) for all students within a state and across the nation.

When the Feds and the state began providing funds to equalize educational opportunities they started taking away local control of schools and demanded that funds were being spent wisely. Testing students to see if they had learned just made sense, but the tests had to be standardized to allow comparisons between schools and districts across the state. Every student had to be measured by the same standard, like a toaster or television set.

Producing a student capable of passing a standardized test, lead to standardized curriculums, not identical but highly similar. To insure that students were doing well in math, reading, and language arts, those subjects required more classroom instruction. States added additional math and science requirements. Districts had to add additional math and science teachers. With no new money other teachers (art, music, languages, drama, technology, and industrial arts classes) had to be cut. The classes that many students find interesting and the open doors for their individual futures are closed as schools prepare every student to attend a university.

In the U.S. we began chasing the great standardized test, taking nations like Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Finland, Switzerland, and Japan, trying to create an educational system as “fine as theirs.” In Idaho we started mimicking other states. What did the standardization and emphasis on math and science for all students accomplish?

The U.S. student currently ranks 31st in math, and 24th in science. My mom told me that “once the horse dies I should quit beating it and get off.” Instead we are hell bent on bringing the horse back to life with cattle prods and training wheels.

While many shudder at the thought that we cannot compete with other nations on tests, we should consider what makes us the industrial leader of the world by a wide margin, and what those countries gave up to test well. In China two-year-olds start preparation for a college entrance exam sixteen years away. No country in the world focuses on all their students like the U.S. does. We test over 95% of our children. They test only their best.

China has 19% of the world’s population and each year applies for one percent of the world patents. China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the market value of all final goods and services from a nation in a given year, is 50% of the U.S. GDP. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product accounts for 22% of the world’s total GDP despite the fact that the U.S. population is only 4.3% of the total world population. If China produced at the rate the U.S. does, their GDP would be four and a half times the U.S. GDP, not one half our GDP.

We are chasing the wrong goal, and seem to be more obsessed every day with achieving that wrong goal.

Education should be about the maintaining our identity as a nation, raising children to continue our dream of a country where each generation is at least as well off as the past.

Training our youth to all be the same ignores what makes this nation the industrial leader of the world. Our creativity, perseverance, resourcefulness, diversity, and imagination is what makes us a great industrial power.

Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair for Global and online Education at the University of Oregon writes in his new book World Class Learners that in the U.S. at age five 98% of the kids tested are at the genius level “for creativity,” by age ten 32% reach the genius level, and by age 15 only 10% still score at the genius level. The number actually declines to about 4% during the work years (if I get creative I may lose this job). At about age 65, when people start doing things they like to do, the genius level increases, and some people become creative again. It’s hard to argue that we are encouraging creativity in schools or the workplace. It appears we are doing an outstanding job of destroying creativity.

The modern public school has become a sausage grinder, taking a young person’s creativity, diversity, resourcefulness, perseverance, imagination, and talent and turn out one product where all of the product is exactly like all the other products.

Other nations are now looking at the U.S. to see how we develop such creative students. How can they develop a Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg, or Steve Wozniak? Steve Wozniak said, “When you’re very structured almost like a religion…Uniforms, uniforms, uniforms…everybody is the same.” Look at structured societies like Singapore, where bad behavior isn’t tolerated. You are extremely punished. Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great singers? Where are the great writers? Where are the athletes? All the creative elements seems to disappear.

The Chinese are not ignorant or satisfied with the outcomes of their test oriented system.

The Chinese Ministry of Education wrote in 1997, “Our nation’s tendency to simply prepare for tests,…and blindly pursue admission rates to colleges and higher-level schools while ignoring the real needs of the student and societal development…pays attention to only a minority of the student population and neglects the majority; it emphasizes knowledge transmission…as well as the cultivation of applied abilities and psychological and emotional development; it relies on rote memorization and mechanical drills…Which makes learning uninteresting, hinders students…and prevents them from taking initiatives…hurting motivation and enthusiasm, squelching their creativity, and impeding their overall development.”

It sounds like they have learned what we have not, standardization stifles creativity. Other nations study the U.S. educational system because they think we know how to foster creativity, the reality is more likely that we have not progressed to their level of destroying creativity, yet.

We should demand that the educational system stop trying to produce cookie cutter students. A world class educational system should start with the student, consider their strengths and weakness, help them build on their weakness, but focus on their strengths. Rather than a funnel into the sausage grinder, education should be inverted so that a student’s creativity, imagination, and perseverance expands and grows with support from educators.

Living within our means, a summary of this year’s county budget

By Elizabeth Morgan

Between a myriad of Monday meetings on Sept. 22, I spoke with Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert concerning the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year’s budget.

I asked how this year’s budget compared to last year’s and if there had been any significant changes to report.

“We held the line on our budget, because as always we don’t know what our PILT or SRS funds are going to be. We were pretty conservative,” admitted Ebert. “There were no wage increases given this year to staff. There is no expansion. We don’t try to take on more than we can pay for, because we are pretty well where we need to be as far as what we can afford and live within our means.”

Ebert reported that the county has good fund balances and they want to keep it that way. “We cut back on our spending a long time ago, before we ran out of money so in that sense the budget is healthy.”

“There are a couple of things to consider when planning a budget based on projections,” Ebert said, “which in a lot of ways are just an educated guess. The main thing in my mind is how much is spent. Even though something is allotted for in the budget, doesn’t necessarily mean it must be spent.”

As in the process of setting most any budget, Clearwater County Commissioners put together the best estimate of what they believe the next year will hold as far as revenue and expenses. However, as in the case of funding from SRS and PILT, there’s really no way to do anything but give it their best guess.

I asked Ebert how severely the funds from SRS and PILT fluctuate from year to year. “The funds don’t fluctuate so much,” he responded, “the question is more about if congress will act and if we get them out or not.”

In the past, the county has received them every year. Some would say it’s a pretty safe bet that they will continue, but how far is the county willing to go out on that limb? “If you start talking about spending money that you don’t have yet, it’s kind of precarious.” said Ebert, “We’ve always opted towards the more conservative side and we have good fund balances because of that.”

Ebert shared that when there is an excess it is carried over to the following year’s budget. Auditors recommend sufficient money in the balance to run for three months or around 25% of the year’s budget, and in that case, there must be cash on hand to run the county.

As in other budgets, there are also the unexpected expenditures that come up occasionally, so the county budgets must consider budgeting more money than what is actually intended. The excess is always carried over. “It’s kind of hard to predict,” he said.

Winter weather plays into the ways the county’s unforeseen expenses. Depending on the amount of snow, time and resources to maintain the roads accessibility could consume a substantial portion of the budget. “I’m not sure if during the wintertime, the county could ever plow the roads often enough to keep everyone happy. But the roads are what they are and this is rugged terrain,” stated Ebert. “We do the best we can with what we have. Fortunately winter comes first and we have the rest of the year to adjust if needed.”

Ebert explained “You have to spend enough to keep the county functioning properly, but at the same time, we don’t want to spend it if it isn’t necessary. It’s a constant judgment call. We examine each item on a regular basis to make sure it is necessary. It’s a fine line and so far we’ve been pretty lucky. I feel we have provided adequate services and have done so within our means.”

“The county has enough to operate a couple of years to avoid running into a brick wall, should funding from SRS and PILT be cut,” assured Ebert, “but there would certainly be significant changes in the manner in which the county spends their money.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Idaho gun range, geothermal bills advance

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two bills authored by Rep. Raúl Labrador cleared the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, offering solutions to regulatory burdens affecting constituents and industry in Idaho.

The committee passed H.R. 5040 the Idaho County Shooting Range Land Conveyance Act. The bill would convey 31 acres of Bureau of Land Management land to Idaho County (southeast of Clearwater County) for use as a gun range. This gun range would provide accessible firearms training for Idaho County residents, recreational opportunities for families and a convenient training facility for the Idaho County Sheriff’s Department. The Idaho County Commissioners have agreed to manage the land as a shooting range and work closely with local law enforcement to provide all necessary maintenance.

“As a matter of principle, the government closest to the people is the one that governs best,” Labrador said. “For years, the Idaho County Commission has been ready to install a gun range in the Riggins area. Because of cumbersome BLM regulations, they have been unable to acquire the necessary land. Idaho County residents deserve to have a safe location for recreational firearms use and this solution is long overdue.”

The committee also passed H.R. 1363, the Exploring for Geothermal Energy on Federal Lands Act. The legislation removes federal barriers to geothermal energy exploration while limiting environmental impact. It will allow for the development of clean geothermal energy resources on federal lands that will create jobs and provide low-cost energy to American families. In Idaho alone, geothermal energy has the potential to generate more than 800 megawatts. That’s enough energy to power more than 500,000 homes.

“Idaho has an abundance of geothermal potential that is unavailable due to bureaucratic impediments,” Labrador said. “Idaho has a unique history of developing geothermal energy. I served in the Idaho Legislature where our 100-year-old Statehouse is heated with geothermal energy, as are many Downtown Boise office buildings, homes near Warm Springs Avenue and part of the Boise State University campus. We need to harness this clean, renewable and reliable form of energy.”

Both bills now move to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Earlier in the 113th Congress, the Natural Resources Committee approved two other bills sponsored by Labrador: H.R. 657, the Grazing Improvement Act and H.R. 1294, the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act. Both bills passed the full House of Representatives and await Senate consideration.

Fire safety burn permits still required through Oct. 20

The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) is reminding citizens that fire safety burn permits are required through Oct. 20.

The permits can be obtained online at

Idaho law (38-115) requires any person living outside city limits anywhere in Idaho who plans to burn anything - including crop residue burning and excluding recreational campfires - during closed fire season to obtain a fire safety burn permit. Closed fire season begins May 10 and extends through Oct. 20 every year. 
The fire safety burn permit is free of charge and good for up to 10 days after it is issued. The duration of the permit as well as specific terms and conditions are established at the local fire warden level.

Anyone issued a burn permit is encouraged to print it out and thoroughly read it, to ensure the permittee understands conditions of the permit in their specific location.

The fire safety burn permit system will help inform fire managers where burning activities are occurring, reducing the number of false runs to fires and saving firefighting resources for instances in which they are truly needed. It also enables fire managers to respond more quickly to fires that escape, potentially reducing the liability of the burner if their fire escapes.

Questions about burn permits can be directed to staff in a local IDL office. Contact information for offices is located at

Friday, September 12, 2014

OCS blessed with good news and a new name: Freedom Place Drop-In Center

By Elizabeth Morgan

The facility formerly known as the Orofino Clean and Sober (OCS) Drop-In Center received a generous amount of tender loving care Sept. 6, as a group of 15 volunteers from both New Bridges Community Church and OCS spent the day organizing, cleaning and painting.

For the past few years, Orofino Clean and Sober Drop-In Center on Johnson Ave. has struggled to provide the community with a safe and alcohol free environment to “hang out.” They opened their doors to those in recovery so they might have a place to meet, play pool, socialize and put their lives back together.

As time went on, the cost to rent, heat, and maintain the facility became more and more difficult. In the attempt to keep the facility open, numerous fundraisers were held and the public was invited to hold other activities in the building for a small fee.

Still, the non-profit organization was in jeopardy of closing as the economy and limited funds were falling short of making ends meet. If the center was to remain open something short of a miracle would need to take place.

And it did.

The owners of the building, John and Judy Gilliam, reached out to Pastor Matt Potratz of New Bridges Community Church. They had heard that the church had been reaching out in various ways to help the community and asked if a meeting could be arranged between the Board of Directors for OCS and the church to see if there might be a way to keep the facility open.

Over the course of a few meetings and working together, a new plan evolved. It seems that more than a few prayers have been answered.

New Bridges Community Church will rent the building to use for various community events. OCS will be allowed to continue to meet there and use the facility as needed, free of charge. The public and those in recovery will still have an alcohol and drug free environment to convene. The facility will receive a little more attention, as a fresh coat of paint and a fresh start for all will hopefully encourage more activity and participation from the community.

The name will change from Orofino Clean and Sober Drop-In Center to Freedom Place Drop-In Center. Throughout the transition, the doors will remain open and the hours will stay pretty much the same as they are now.

The center is open to the public; anyone is welcome to “Drop-In” and hang out. Food and beverages are available to purchase daily, at very affordable prices. The center will also be available to rent for birthday or retirement parties, wedding receptions, etc., for a nominal fee.

“Have you ever wondered why that often the only place to hear live music or sing karaoke is in a bar?” asked Potratz. “We’re not there to preach or push a religious agenda,” he explained. “At times there may be bands playing Christian music, but other forms of music and entertainment will be offered as well. We’ll be there to love people and encourage them. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?”

Additional help is always encouraged and much needed. Anyone interested in volunteering with cleanup, restoration, and/or as daily help running the center would be performing a great service to our community. For questions, or more information, please contact Matt Potratz at (208) 791-7230, or by email at: Mattp@newbridgeschurch .com

Matt Potratz, Pastor for New Bridges Community Church in Orofino, helps to paint the interior of the building for Freedom Place Drop-In Center. As lunchtime approached, he was seen slaving over the grill out back, assuring his hardworking crew a tasty lunch, while others brought side dishes to accompany the meal.

Ryan Glaze set to work with the pressure washer, as both the front and back of the building formerly known as Orofino Clean and Sober Drop-In Center, received a good cleaning. While Glaze worked outside, others were busy inside, cleaning and painting.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dworshak announces seasonal recreation changes

With summer recreation season coming to a close, Dworshak Dam and Reservoir’s Visitor Center hours of operation, boat ramp availability and camping reservation procedures have changed.

The visitor center will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. starting Sept. 2, and will be closed on federal holidays. Visitor tours are not offered during the Fall-Winter recreation season.

All campgrounds at Dworshak are open. Dent Acres offers 50 campsites with electric, water and sewer hookups, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Dent Acres campsites cost $10 per day, with self-deposit registration; Golden Age Senior or America the Beautiful Senior pass-holders receive a 50-percent discount.

All camping fees are waived for armed forces service members on mid- or post-deployment leave. Please present approved leave documents to a Corps park ranger or volunteer park attendant.

Looking ahead to next year’s Spring-Summer recreation season, remember that reservations for Dent Acres camping can be made up to six months in advance, and the group shelter can be reserved up to a year in advance. To make reservations, call 877-444-6777 or go online to

All other camping areas, including minicamps, are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Dworshak staff remind visitors that the reservoir is dropping about one foot per day, as reservoir outflows are used to help keep downstream rivers cool for migrating salmon and steelhead.

Remember when using mini-camps to leave extra line when tying off your vessel. The following boat ramps are open for use; Big Eddy, Bruce’s Eddy 1, Granddad, Dent Acres Park, Freeman Creek (Dworshak State Park). Please, check water level and current boat ramp information, by call 800-321-3198 or go online to

As always, safety is the Corps’ greatest concern—safety is everyone’s responsibility! Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind while having fun at Dworshak:

Changing weather conditions can create unsafe situations on open water. Know the weather and have a float plan.

Keep life jackets on children while on or around the water, and don’t let small children out of your sight.

Fire danger is present, so be careful with your campfire, and extinguish smoking materials.

Check the serviceability of your boat, and avoid drinking alcohol while boating.

Ensure proper fitting, accessible, and serviceable life vests are available for each occupant on your boat. Better yet, wear them!

Familiarize yourself with the area in which you will be boating before traveling at high speeds. There may be rocks, stumps, or shallow areas not visible from the surface.

For more information regarding facilities access and current conditions, call 208-476-1255 during business hours.

Fair exhibitors, are you ready?

By Diana Colgan

The 67th annual Clearwater County Fair and Orofino Lumberjack Days will be held Sept. 11-14, which is only a week away. The big weekend event takes place in Orofino City Park, with exhibits, activities, and events that are interesting, fun and exciting. The theme for the activity-filled weekend is “Rooted in Tree-dition.”

Fair books have been distributed throughout Clearwater County and Peck and are available at the Clearwater County Extension Office and area businesses. Residents of Clearwater County and Peck are encouraged to enter exhibits on Thursday, Sept. 11, for the judging and awarding of ribbons which takes place on Friday, Sept. 12.

The Exhibit Building will be filled with interesting booths decorated by businesses, organizations, schools, government agencies, and others with special interests and hobbies, plus the interesting exhibits that have been entered for judging by the creative and talented residents of our area.

The Fair Barn will be filled with 4-H and Open Class livestock entries, including chickens and rabbits. Horses that have competed in the 4-H and Open Class horse shows will also be on display. 4-H members will be busy with the livestock projects they have raised and trained for the fitting and showing and judging contests.

Did you paint a picture, make a quilt, sew a shirt, crochet a doily, knit a sweater, embroider or cross-stitch a picture, weave a mat, build a Legos castle, take an interesting photo, grow some tomatoes, bake some cookies, can some fruit, raise some chickens, or find some beautiful flowers in your yard that you would like to enter in the fair?

These are but a few of the items that can be entered for judging and will be enjoyed by the many people who visit the Fair. It’s a time to be proud of what you can do and what you have done.

Information for entering exhibits for judging and listings of scheduled weekend events in both the Exhibit Building and Fair Barn can be found in the Fair Book.

Plan to spend several fun filled days at the Clearwater County Fair. Enter your favorite projects. And, don’t forget to bring a friend!