Idahoans say education is their No. 1 priority

Education is Idaho’s top priority.

Steve Farkas

That’s according to a new statewide survey called “The People’s Perspective,” conducted by the New York-based Farkas Duffet Research Group and facilitated by Idaho Education News.

The survey polled 1,004 Idahoans in the fall of 2016 and weighed education against the environment and the economy.

In Idaho’s case, education won out — something that’s not typical.

“Usually the economy is ranked first in importance,” said Steve Farkas of the Farkas Duffet Research Group. “Education is usually in the top three, but the economy usually rates the highest.”

Many respondents said they have noticed “slight” improvements in Idaho education, especially regarding schools in their own communities.

Just 7 percent of respondents said they believe “the state’s public school system is in very good shape and needs little change.” About 53 percent graded their local schools a C or lower.

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Here’s a breakdown of six key findings:

  • A good education = academics + grit: Seventy-five percent of respondents say teachers should teach traits such as persistence and responsibility, along with subjects such as basic reading and math.
  • Idahoans want equity in education: Ninety-two percent of those surveyed said it’s the state’s “fundamental responsibility to provide free, high quality education, regardless of background or economic status.” Three out of four think it’s the state’s responsibility to make up the difference between poor and affluent districts.
  • Rural residents are tougher critics: “Rural residents are less likely than suburban ones to recommend their school district to families looking for top-notch education,” the survey concludes. Rural parents are also less likely to prefer a four-year college and more likely to prefer a trade school for their kids.
  • Good teachers and schools matter: Eighty-three percent of those polled believe the best way to measure teacher effectiveness is to measure student growth. Meanwhile, 70 percent support the ISAT (Idaho’s annual exam). When asked about using standardized tests like the ISAT to gauge school performance, opinions were split evenly, at 48 percent.
  • Idahoans support charter schools: Fifty-four percent of Idahoans think charter schools in their area outperform regular public schools. But the public’s understanding about charters appears somewhat lacking: 34 percent of Idahoans report knowing either “a great deal” or “quite a bit” about charters.

It’s not the first time Idahoans have weighed in on K-12. Earlier this year, Boise State University released a separate Public Policy Survey that cast an improving picture of schools.

The People’s Perspective survey was preceded by two focus groups of Idahoans in Boise and Pocatello. This year’s survey is a continuation of the landmark 2016 survey, People’s Review of Education in Idaho, with some notable differences. The People’s Perspective includes a new series of questions probing school inequity. Survey questions probe how Idahoans feel about inequity in schools, what measures they support to amend it and their perceptions of the uses of data in evaluating schools and teachers.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation paid for both surveys and funds Idaho Education News.

Be sure to follow us in the days ahead as we dig deeper into the “People’s Perspective.”