In the Classroom

Boise School District blasts ‘Don’t Fail Idaho’ ads

The home page of the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign online.
The home page of the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign online.

Correction: Four out of five Idaho students aren’t prepared for life after high school, according to a “Don’t Fail Idaho” ad campaigned sponsored by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. An earlier version of this story said one out of five.

Boise School District leaders have fired back at a J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation ad campaign challenging the readiness of Idaho students after high school.

The foundation’s “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign, which says four out of five students aren’t prepared, is part of an “agenda designed to undermine public schools,” the Boise School Board said in an op-ed article for the Statesman.

The campaign includes one TV ad showing children getting off a school bus in a remote location and being left alone. But the campaign is inaccurate, offers no solution and hurts teachers, students and parents, the Boise trustees say.

The board decided “not to sit back and allow our teachers to be devalued and have the success of our students undermined,” said Maria Greeley, board vice president.

A spokesman for the foundation said it had no comment.

The ads started appearing in January, school officials said. “All anybody was talking about was how disappointed and how discouraged they were making them feel,” said Ryan Hill, district communications specialist.

Boise Superintendent Don Coberly sent a memo defending the district to employees Monday. He criticized the foundation’s reliance on college entrance exams to determine students’ future success. That’s not the only indicator for how students will perform, he said: Advanced-placement, dual-credit and professional-technical classes taken in high school all are ways to see students succeed.

The foundation goes by a benchmark of 1550 on the SAT exam as the measure of readiness, Coberly said. Among 2009 high school graduates who went on to graduate from college, nearly 40 percent did not reach that score, Boise officials said.

Coberly’s memo said the foundation wants to “undermine public education” to help charter school enrollment. “That will only happen if Idahoans lose faith in their public schools,” he wrote.

The district’s strong denunciation of the foundation’s effort marks a continuing shift in how the foundation is viewed. It was revered as a well-funded foundation dedicated almost solely to education beginning in the mid-1990s, especially by educators for the support, computer equipment and reading programs it gave Idaho schools.

Today, Boise officials say, the foundation is out of touch with Idaho education. They point to the governor’s task force for improving education, which brought together once-disparate groups to develop a unified policy on education, teacher salaries and school funding.

“The Albertson Foundation is trying to tear it down,” Coberly wrote.

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