After the Ivanka Trump visit: some things to know about Wilder

As you’ve certainly heard by now, White House adviser Ivanka Trump and Apple CEO Tim Cook were in Wilder schools Tuesday.

As you might have noticed by now (I hope), I’m dropping an in-depth series this week on the demographic barriers that keep many high school graduates from continuing their education.

Demographic barriers, in towns much like Wilder.

The visit will be remembered for other things — such as the inevitable pro- and anti-Trump demonstrations that sprang up outside the schools, and the severely restricted media access that pretty much rendered the event a photo non-opportunity.

Since our reporters weren’t among those who could follow Trump on her tour, we can best divine her mission via tweet.

If this is all about preparing students for the future, let’s look at Wilder’s strategy, and Wilder’s profile.

Wilder has gone all-in on one-to-one classroom technology. Through a 2016 Apple grant, every K-12 student in this rural Canyon County district has access to an individual iPad. Not everyone is sold on the idea. While Trump was on her school tour, a group of high school students held court with reporters outside, criticizing the school’s reliance on technology and questioning whether their education is preparing them for life after high school.

Indeed, the life-after-high school numbers are grim.

Only a fourth of Wilder’s 2017 graduates went on to college; the state’s go-on rate was a stagnant 45 percent. Wilder’s go-on numbers have languished below the state’s average since at least 2014.

But Wilder’s demographic challenges are daunting.

Wilder is one of the poorest districts in Idaho. In 2018, all of Wilder’s students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, a metric commonly used to measure poverty. Wilder uses a federal rule called the Community Eligibility Provision — which allows high-poverty districts to forgo the paperwork requirements and provide free lunch to everyone.

Seventy-nine percent of the high school’s students are Hispanic, compared to 18 percent statewide.

These demographics matter — which is why I spent five months studying them for this week’s series. I didn’t spend much time looking at Wilder for the series. I easily could have.

Graduates from Idaho’s low-income households are less likely to attend college. Hispanic students are far less likely to obtain a college degree (and according to one prominent national study, Idaho’s Hispanic postsecondary completion numbers rank dead last in the nation).

Idaho is not going to meet its completion rate goal without significantly closing these demographic gaps. That’s not debatable.

The effectiveness of the Wilder iPad program is obviously a topic of debate — even within the halls of the high school — but you can’t really debate the demographic gaps. The numbers don’t lie.

We’re spending this week looking at a lot of those numbers — and telling a lot of human stories. So (shameless plug here), I hope you’ll check out this week’s Obstacles and Options series — and attend our Dec. 4 town hall meeting. It starts at 6 p.m. at Boise State University’s Special Events Center, and we’ll stream it live on our Facebook page.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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