Guest Opinion: For our future, it’s time to come together on education

December 22, 2013 

More than three months ago, 31 educational stakeholders completed months of work based on years of discussion and research.

We met 17 times. We traveled across Idaho to gather public input.

As a result, our group — the Task Force for Improving Education — published 20 recommendations, or 20 clear steps Idahoans can and must take over the next six years to ensure every child not only graduates from high school, but also goes on to postsecondary education and the workforce prepared to be successful.

Some of these recommendations can happen right away. Others require a change in law and significant investments from Idaho taxpayers.

But all of them are possible if we start today.

Idaho has an education graveyard full of reports and recommendations from roundtables, task forces and blue ribbon committees spanning the decades. The most recent dates back to just 2007.

Many of these were commissioned by governors or legislatures. They all worked toward the same goals we have today: increasing student achievement, improving teacher pay, and creating equal opportunity for all Idaho students.

Yet they failed, not because their recommendations lacked validity, but simply because they were never implemented.

This time must be different. These recommendations must become a reality. We cannot allow the solutions now before us to suffer the same fate as those in the past. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren and our state’s economic future.

Today, Idaho has a good education system that has shown progress. Visit any classroom and it’s obvious.

We have great teachers who work hard every day and help Idaho’s students meet the standards we have set for them. As a result, we have a high graduation rate. When you compare Idaho to other states academically, we do quite well.

But once those students graduate from high school, it’s a different story.

This is when too many students and parents begin asking questions: If I did so well in high school, why am I struggling to get a job? Why does my child have to take remedial math and English courses at a community college?

We have to end this cycle that has perpetuated for far too long where students perform well in K-12, walk across the stage, receive a high school diploma, and then just three months later realize that they are woefully unprepared for the real world.

Today we not only have a comprehensive solution in sight, but we also have bipartisan support. This is evident by the fact that House Democrats have proposed legislation to create a framework for implementing all of the task force recommendations.

This is welcome news. I am more than willing to work with Democrats, Republicans and any group or individual who is interested in improving academic achievement for every child in Idaho by implementing these recommendations.

Together, we can increase student achievement by improving teacher pay, restoring operational funding for districts, creating more advanced opportunities for every child, moving to an education system based on mastery instead of seat time, and more.

Join us in this effort. Study the task force’s recommendations. Voice your support for improving Idaho’s K-12 public education system.

I recognize it might take us five or six years to fully implement these recommendations, but together, we can finally accomplish these goals.

Tom Luna is Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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