Analysis: A think tank’s unflinching analysis of Idaho’s school system

Boise’s economic boom might not be sustainable — and Idaho’s educational system poses part of the problem.

That sobering analysis comes from The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C. think tank. In a recent study, “Growing Cities That Work For All,” Brookings examined four cities: Boise, St. Louis, Nashville and South Bend, Ind.

The report finds cracks in Boise’s economic recovery, including rising poverty rates, shrinking work force at Micron Technology Inc. and HP and a reliance on service jobs in health care, government and hospitality. (For a closer look at the economics, here’s a link to Don Day’s in-depth coverage and analysis at Boisedev.com.) But the report also took an unflinching and unflattering look at Idaho education.

“The education system in Idaho hasn’t kept up with the human capital demands of local industry, forcing companies to expand elsewhere,” the report says.

The authors note that Micron has decided to build a $3 billion plant in Manassas, Va., bringing with it 1,000 jobs. They don’t directly draw a link between Micron’s decision and the state’s education system, but the implication is clear nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the numbers are sobering — and perhaps even more sobering than they appeared.

Since 2010, Idaho has been chasing its “60 percent goal,” hoping to convince young adults to obtain a college degree or professional certificate. With a completion rate mired at 42 percent, Idaho has made little progress toward the 60 percent threshold. And a 60 percent completion rate might not be enough to support a high-tech community, the authors wrote. That might take a completion rate approaching 80 percent.

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Still, the authors called Idaho’s 60 percent goal “laudable,” since it recognizes “that the issue of higher education and job preparedness encompasses the entire education and workforce development system.”

But while addressing higher education, say the authors, Idaho also has to address pre-K.

“In some school districts, nearly half the kindergartners will start school with disadvantages shown to persist through life,” the report says.

The authors do note that pre-K is a “politically sensitive topic” in Idaho, which is one of only four states that does not fund early childhood education.

One of the four Brookings authors has a tie to another project examining Idaho education.

Marcela Escobari, a senior fellow at Brookings’ Center for Universal Education, is providing technical guidance to an HP-funded survey and study of the state’s school system. (Escobari also spoke to lawmakers and community leaders during a January “legislative academy” sponsored by Idaho Business for Education.)

The HP study, also done in conjunction with Idaho Business for Education, is due in June. When it’s released, it will be intriguing to see how the study and survey results compare with Brookings’ findings.

 

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