Best practices presented to task force

The governor’s Education Task Force heard that offering merit pay, closing failing schools and providing mentors to new teachers are some proven ways to increase student achievement. The 31 business and education leaders on the task force also heard that more money doesn’t guarantee success.

Local and national experts in education presented examples of best practices on Friday morning to the Education Task Force. The members were instructed to take what they learned to afternoon working groups.

The members mostly were able to select those working groups from these five topics — professional development, teacher effectiveness, fiscal stability, technology and structure. The groups spent the afternoon brainstorming ideas and writing them on large poster paper. The members then walked around to read what other groups had on their poster paper. The many ideas will be posted next week on the State Board of Education website. Some of the ideas included collaborating services, pushing decisions as close to students as possible, creating a clear plan for accountability, increasing data driven decisions and aiding students with technologyadd access at home.

The task force is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 8. The long-term plans of the task force are to share its ideas on an electronic bulletin board and during public meetings around the state. After all Idahoans have had the opportunity to weigh in, the task force intends to get back together and review the findings, said task force chair Richard Westerberg. This process will not be completed before the 2013 Legislature adjourns. The governor has recommended the state fund the ideas generated by the task force up to $33.9 million. Read more about that request by clicking here.

“I appreciate how everyone was engaged today,” Westerberg said.

Friday morning began with the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation representing a national perspective. Executive director Jamie MacMillan said that instead of serving on the task force, she wanted to be a conduit to data and best practices.

She said that the foundation has donated $500 million to Idaho education in 15 years and has seen little increase in student achievement. “You name it and we’ve funded it,” she said. “We draw the conclusion that money does not guarantee increased student achievement.”

MacMillan encouraged the task force to tackle system-wide change to make real progress in reform. She also emphasized using data, being transparent with that data and encouraging innovation.

Joining MacMillan via Skype was Marguerite Rosa from the Georgetown University and Center for Reinventing Public Education. Her data confirmed the foundation’s findings.

“There is a weak relationship between spending and performance in Idaho,” Rosa said.

Rosa then explained to the task force that to increase student achievement, state leaders should redesign schools instead of “tinkering around the edges.” She recommended:

  1. Funding the students instead of the ingredients — attach the funding formula to the student.
  2. Linking spending to productivity and creating transparency with data.
  3. Incentivising innovation by creating competitive grants.
  4. Augmenting accountability and creating a process for closing failing schools.

“Transparency with data will lead to collaboration,” Rosa said.

Idaho best practices stepped to the podium next. Four educators who are members on the task force gave their examples of bright spots in student achievement.

Paula Conley of the Coeur d’Alene School District credited high performances to a devotion to teacher collaboration, evaluation and technology integration. She was personally passionate about having a strong mentor program for new teachers so they don’t have a “sense of isolation.”

Phyllis Nichols of the New Plymouth School District spoke about how merit pay has been an “incentive for success” in her district. Bonuses are paid across grade levels in this district of 1,000 students.

Meridian’s Linda Clark, superintendent of Idaho’s largest school district, showcased how her high schools offer advanced opportunities for students in both higher and technical education.

“We are preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges,” she said. “I call it preparing them for the reality of life.”

Meridian students earned 10,013 concurrent credits last year and Clark did the math — it saved parents $1.36 million.  Clark also gave an overview of the Treasure Valley Educational Partnership (TVEP) and its mission.

The last presenter was Teresa Jackman. She represents the Idaho Education Association on the task force and she teaches at a charter school in Southeast Idaho. She said that student success comes with emphasizing things like  researched-based instruction, professional learning communities and aligning instruction and assessment.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.