State Superintendent Tom Luna reminisced Tuesday morning about his eight years in office, and talked about the future.
Luna, who is not seeking reelection, met with about 15 members of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee. He touted changes he has implemented, discussed the future of education and urged the Treasure Valley business community to support those changes.
The one change that will have most immediate impact will be to raise teaching and learning standards through what Luna calls Idaho Core Standards and the country calls Common Core Standards. “I can’t tell you how critical it is to keep those standards. “We’re experiencing a pushback and its far more political than academic.”
Idaho implemented the standards last year, under Luna’s guidance. About 40 other states have implemented the same standards but some are considering removing them.
“The pushback isn’t happening with parents,” Luna said. “We need to make sure we answer the misinformation that’s out there about core standards.”
The biggest concern he hears is the test aligned to the standards is too long. This past spring, Idaho students took a field test. The results were not made public but instead were used to review the test and the test-taking process. Students are slated to take the ISATs by Smarter Balanced in the spring of 2015, and this time, the results will count.
“We learned a lot and you will see adjustments made to the test,” Luna said. “We’ve already identified ways we can shorten the test.”
Luna bragged about other changes in education, including improved access to technology, teacher compensation and the opportunities for high school students to earn college credits.
“Idaho spanned the digital divide and now every district and high school is connected,” Luna said. “We turned the corner on technology.”
Now, he said, Idaho has to “turn the corner” on other initiatives, including a tiered licensure/career ladder program for teacher evaluation and compensation.
“We’re not going to retain and attract the best and brightest teachers if compensation is based on education and experience,” Luna said. “The biggest pushback is many teachers have been told they could lose their license and that’s not the case.”
Tiered licensure and a career ladder are two of 20 initiatives promoted by the Governor’s Task Force for Education. These could cost $250 million over the next five years.
“I’ve convinced they are doable but the two challenges to implementation are the fiscal challenge and people — adults— being willing to make changes within the education system,” Luna said.
Luna also said he is proud that Idaho compensates high school students for taking college courses or professional-technical classes.
“A real game changer is the new opportunity to earn college credits,” Luna repeated. “In our Fast Forward program, every junior or senior gets $600 from the state to pay for credits. We have removed the technology barrier and the financial barrier.”
Despite a stellar high school graduation rates, Idaho has a dismal go-on rates. Jobs today require more than a high school diploma, Luna said, and educators must raise the standards to prepare Idaho teenagers to be successful beyond high school. “We need to measure Idaho students not by how they are doing in school, but by how they are doing outside of school.”