By Jamie MacMillan
From The Idaho Statesman
February 25, 2014
Idaho business leader Bob Lokken recently described Idaho’s current education and economic conditions as a “death spiral.”
It sounds dramatic because it is.
Idaho is home to bright kids, hardworking educators and dedicated parents. Why, then, are more than half of our youngest learners behind before they enter kindergarten? Why are 30 percent of our third graders not reading at grade level? Why are more than half of our eighth graders not proficient in math? And why is Idaho dead last for kids who go on to a two- or four-year college?
It’s little wonder why Idaho has the largest share of minimum wage workers per capita in the nation.
Until the Gem State employs a strategic vision driven by goals and supported by a modern education model, we may never improve.
The recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education, including an emphatic endorsement of the Idaho Core Standards, are positive steps. The Idaho Core Standards increase rigor and raise expectations for our children.
Tactics like these are important. But without a comprehensive vision to end the current system that treats teachers like robots and students like widgets, these tactics will fall short of our expectations. No number of new programs or amount of resources poured in to today’s system will lead to better outcomes tomorrow.
True system change will attract, prepare and empower the best and brightest educators; focus on students and their outcomes; demand equity but not always more money; and align funding with a seamless education pathway that prepares every Idaho child for life amidst the demands of an ever-changing modern world.
Now is the time to focus energy and resources to create a nonpartisan vision for an Idaho education system that aggressively drives toward common goals.
The state adopted a goal that calls for 60 percent of Idaho’s 25 to 34 year-olds to have a two- or four- year degree by 2020. Now it’s time to set measurable goals along the entire educational pathway — for kindergarten readiness, third grade reading, high school math and our disgraceful go-on rate.
Many states with bold visions are reaping rewards. Idaho can join the movement, and ultimately lead the way.
In Florida, student achievement went from the bottom to well above the national average, with Hispanic students making some of the greatest gains, because state leaders united around a common vision. Indiana zeroed in on education and workforce development and student achievement, college completion rates and the state’s economy have all improved. Utah has the lowest funded education system nationwide, but stakeholders created a comprehensive action plan and they’re seeing student achievement soar.
What Idaho desperately needs is the leadership to shape a vision for our state.
Idaho has an opportunity to show the nation exactly what a monumental turnaround looks like. We can show the entire country how to set a vision, aspire toward measurable goals and reinvent an education model that better serves our children and their future.
Demand a vision from your leaders. If we don’t, our children will fail to realize their dreams. And that’s on all of us.
Jamie MacMillan is the executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.