Guest Opinions

Idahoans ready for change in education

In my experience as an Idaho educator, district superintendent, the state’s deputy superintendent, a parent and now the executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, I have always embraced the crucial ingredient that drives lasting change in our education system in Idaho: the voice and energy of the public and parents. That’s why we commissioned a survey, The People’s Review of Education in Idaho 2016, which asked 1,000 randomly chosen Idahoans from every corner of the state about what they value in their K-12 public education system.

The Albertson Family Foundation is a data-driven organization. Data is a measuring stick by which we can all compare our performance against others. We have exhaustively explored and published the best available data about student achievement, school funding, workforce needs, the economic returns associated with education in Idaho and more. But we felt we were missing something important. What do everyday Idahoans — citizens and taxpayers — value most in their public education system? Do they have confidence that their local schools are providing the best education possible? What are the essential subjects students should be learning? Are Idaho’s children getting what they need from our public schools to help them succeed in life? And as we work toward improving education, are those improvements aligned with what Idahoans value?

To help us find out, we enlisted the services of the nonpartisan FDR Group, led by expert analysts Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett, who have a combined 45 years of experience in opinion research and social policy.

We are grateful to the many Idahoans who participated in a series of in-person conversations in late summer of 2015 to help Farkas and Duffett develop the survey and learn about education in Idaho.

The final report, Idaho//Ready For Change: What Idahoans Really Think About Education In Idaho, reveals that the majority of Idahoans believe education is the single most important issue facing our state. This makes us unique: the majority of Americans believe the economy is the leading issue.

Unfortunately, the report also reveals that Idahoans have wide-ranging dissatisfaction with their education system. Alarmingly, only 48 percent of Idahoans would recommend their local schools to a family looking for a top-notch school, and 7 in 10 would choose a school other than their traditional public school for their own children if they had the choice. Only 6 percent of Idahoans would give their local schools an A grade and 79 percent say Idaho would attract more companies and its economy would be stronger if it had better schools.

But the results also shine a light on what Idahoans value most and a pathway toward excellence. Idahoans want more vocational education classes, internships and real-world experiences for students. They believe that teaching critical thinking, using technology, and the importance of hard work and being responsible are essential. Idahoans believe in the power of great teachers to reach the most disadvantaged and challenging students. They believe that our young people must continue their education past high school, and they overwhelmingly support charter schools as well as more learning options for their children.

We intend to conduct the survey annually to provide a measurement for how we are doing in working toward the things we value as a state.

Everyone in Idaho who wants students to succeed should pay attention. The data show we can do better. We believe we must do better, not just for the sake of Idaho’s children, but also for the prosperity of our beloved state.

Idahoans have spoken and they are indeed ready for change.

Roger Quarles is the executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, whose mission is to provide limitless learning to all Idahoans. The report can be downloaded from jkaf.org.

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