Change begins by supporting public schools

 “I just think some of the resources that are here (at the University of Washington) — I really don’t think there’s a finer football setup, sitting here in these offices, looking out at the stadium, 72,500 (seats), onto the water — this is a hard place to beat. A lot of kids will be attracted to this type of thing.” — Chris Petersen on being “handcuffed in recruiting” at Boise State University.
In Idaho, school districts have voiced concerns, and a tremendous amount of energy, time and resources have flowed into a vigorous, sometimes vitriolic debate over the various reform measures connected to the Common Core. But as the proverbial smoke continues to rise, an illogical thread insidiously floats beneath the surface of this discourse’s fabric.

Regarding the governor’s task force on education reform, Wayne Hoffman, Executive Director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, wrote:  “The plan to throw millions of dollars in more money into the system just gets us back to where we started, to an education system that is not innovative, moves too slowly to align to 21st century realities and relies heavily on the latest national education fad, Common Core.”

With such sentiments being expressed on a regular basis, and the recommendations of the task force being supported among many state leaders, a critical question needs to be asked: What is the evidence that Idaho has a failing education system?

On the front page of the Idaho Department of Education website, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna states: “Our staff stands ready to assist our local schools, to meet challenges head on and turn Idaho’s good public school system into a great public school system.”

The department’s Common Core page takes a glass-more-than-half-full approach: “In Idaho, we face a challenge. While Idaho students perform well academically in grades K-12, too many students graduate from high school unprepared for the rigors of postsecondary education or the workforce.”

The Idaho Common Core site goes on to say: “With these standards in place, Idaho students will now graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century. Whether your child chooses to go on to college, professional-technical school, the workforce or the military after high school, he or she will be prepared.”

Ironically, Hoffman wrote November 8, 2013 column entitled “Not every kid belongs in some form of higher education.”

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“It’s possible that no one else has the nerve to say this, but I do: I disagree with the newly minted goal, embraced by the governor’s education reform task force, that 60 percent of Idahoans should have an advanced degree or certificate by 2020.”

Hoffman accurately points out the “remarkable amount of academic snobbery being injected into American schools and the workplace. It’s an elitist notion that if you don’t go to college, you’re less valuable than someone who did. That you’re an underachiever, or not smart. That you’ll never be rich or happy. It’s also profoundly untrue.”

He goes on to say “I’m shocked we’re even having a serious discussion about post-secondary education, when our public officials have yet to get K-12 education right.”

But how can fundamental progress immediately begin, without a serious and committed investment? Idaho is almost last in the nation in several key statistical categories. The Gem state also has the lowest wages and ranks at the bottom for economic development.

To use an example from higher education: beloved Boise State University football coach Chris Petersen recently left his position at a state-funded school, for another state-funded school. Do we need to even ask why? 

I applaud efforts to make good public schools better.  Change begins by supporting them.

 

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