Idaho leaders, lawmakers retreat to study education issues

A mix of lawmakers, education leaders and national experts are meeting for a two-day retreat in Boise to study and discuss Idaho’s education landscape.

Lawmakers at EdScape
From left, Reps. Ron Mendive, Terry Gestrin, Donna Pence and Ryan Kerby attend Monday’s conference.

The event — EdScape: An In-Depth Look at the Education Landscape in Idaho — was hosted by Bellwether Education Partners and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. Travel expenses were reimbursed and meals provided.

Lawmakers from all corners of Idaho attended:

  • Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene.
  • Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.
  • Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.
  • Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth.
  • Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding.
  • Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly.
  • Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene.
  • Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.
  • Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay.
  • Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.

Idaho education leaders in attendance included:

  • Rod Gramer, president, Idaho Business for Education.
  • Marilyn Whitney, education adviser to Gov. Butch Otter.
  • Melinda Smyser, regional director for Sen. Jim Risch.
  • Rich Osguthorpe, dean, Boise State University College of Education.
  • Matt Freeman, executive director, State Board of Education
  • Roger Quarles, executive director, J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

The State Department of Education was invited and RSVP’d, but did not attend Monday’s conference and dinner.

The event began Monday afternoon at the Linen Building with each participant sharing what they see as successes in Idaho education and their own concerns.

Most considered the state’s hard-working teachers and students a bright spot.

Horman listed funding as both a success and a concern.

“Almost 60 percent of state funds go to education and that’s a big commitment for a small resource state,” she said. “But we need to fund kids rather than a system.”

Boyle agreed. “We need to make decisions about what’s best for kids.”

Whitney said Idaho needs to focus on student outcomes.

The participants were encouraged to talk freely, share ideas and listen to national experts on topics such as education funding, teacher pipelines, innovative school models and the work force.

Part of Monday was devoted to a preview of a public opinion poll to be released in January. Steven Farkas of New York-based FDR Group has produced a poll intended to reflect the public perception of education in Idaho. He answered questions about the poll’s process and results, promised more details in January and released a few  highlights:

  • 75 percent of Idahoans believe it is absolutely essential that students be taught critical thinking.
  • 80 percent of Idahoans think even difficult students from neglectful homes can be successfully taught if they have good teachers.
  • 80 percent of Idahoans favor charter schools.
  • Three in four Idahoans believe their public schools should teach to the same academic standards as the rest of the nation.

“We found people in Idaho support standards and accountability — they want schools and kids held accountable,” Farkas said. “The problem is in the implementation.”

Farkas held focus groups in Meridian, Salmon, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello to develop a questionnaire. About 1,000 Idahoans were surveyed with a 3 percent margin of error. Final results will be released in January and are sponsored by the Albertson Foundation.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and supported by Boise State University.