Education news roundup: Tuesday, Feb. 25

Technology data tool. Members of the Idaho Leads Project unveiled a new data tool Tuesday at the Statehouse that is designed to help educators develop technology improvement plans.

Lisa Kinnaman, co-director of the Boise-based nonprofit Idaho Leads Project, said her organization partnered with Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained researchers from San Francisco-based BrightBytes to launch Clarity for Schools.

To gather the data, members of the Idaho Leads Project conducted technology audits schools and charters, surveying thousands of Idaho students and teachers.

The Clarity for School report covered 66 school districts and charters (more than half of all districts in the state) and produced colorful infographics and charts that presented the data.

Here are some of the highlights from Kinnaman’s presentation:

  • They surveyed more than 40,807 students, teachers and parents, including 30,221 Idaho students.
  • Teachers surveyed reported that 25 percent of their classrooms already have a one-to-one ratio of students to computer devices, while an additional 9 percent reported a two-to-one ratio.
  • Eighty-seven percent of teachers said they wanted to learn more about using technology to promote instructional teaching, while 72 percent of teachers said they wanted to develop more multimedia skills.
  • Ninety-four percent of teachers surveyed said they either agree or strongly agree that technology can enhance student learning.
  • Just 8 percent of students reported that had a high knowledge of digital citizenship skills such as access, online etiquette and self-protection.

During the hearing Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, asked whether the Idaho Leads Project team was capable of expanding the Clarity for Schools project on a statewide basis.

“Do you have the capacity to support (the program) on a full statewide basis, nobody has asked the question about funding,” Horman said.

Horman was a long-time trustee with the Bonneville Joint School District, which is one of the 66 Idaho school districts participating in the Idaho Leads Project.

Kinnaman replied that the Leads team spent about $47,000 on the contract for Clarity and would be able to replicate the program statewide for about 50 cents per student.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News and the Idaho Leads Project are funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.   

Ag funding. A divided Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved a $53.1 million budget for the state’s professional-technical programs — a budget that includes $512,900 for ag programs.

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Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace

Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, led the push for the ag budget boost, which passed the budget committee on a 16-2 vote.

But first, the committee rejected a slightly larger, and more far-reaching budget increase. The $53.2 million professional-technical proposal would have included a 15 percent, across-the-board increase for all professional-technical programs. This would have translated to a $166,500 increase for ag programs.

But this motion — written by Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls — died on a 9-9 tie vote. Gibbs’ motion later passed on a 16-2 vote, with Mortimer and Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls voting no.

The proposed budget represents an 8.4 percent increase for professional-technical programs.

The ag budget will move through the Legislature, as lawmakers take a closer look at ag programs — and professional-technical education in general. The Senate last week passed an ag initiative that recommends putting about $600,000 into teacher and district grants — although the bill does not provide funding. Mortimer, meanwhile, has proposed a legislative “interim committee” that would spend the off-season studying professional-technical programs.