Good news to report in Idaho education

A lot of traction has been gained by those who continue to point out that Idaho’s public education system ranks 50th in the nation. This claim has been painted as a source of embarrassment and an argument in favor of spending more money for education. But there is more to this story, and Idahoans need to know the rest of the story before they draw conclusions about our education system, our teachers, and the perennial request for “more funding.”

I would like to share with you the following information, which may change your perspective.

Idaho’s 50th-place ranking is based solely on one criterion, that of per-pupil spending. In other words, Idaho spends less per pupil than any other state except Utah (which ranks 51st on a list that includes the District of Columbia). When other measurements are used, however, Idaho compares quite favorably with other states.

According to the Report Card of American Education:

  1. Idaho ranks 29th overall and outperforms its neighboring states of Oregon, Utah, California and Arizona.
  2. Idaho receives a B- in education policy, with only six states receiving a higher grade.
  3. Idaho ranks 28th in fourth-grade reading proficiency.
  4. Idaho ranks 19th in eighth-grade reading proficiency.
  5. In eighth-grade math, only 32 percent of students are below basic, which ranks Idaho in 11th place. Furthermore, research done by Idaho’s Legislative Services Office has found that Idaho’s rank on the ACT test is 16th nationwide.

Massachusetts is ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The percent of eighth-grade students in Massachusetts who rank proficient or higher in reading is only 10 percentage points higher than Idaho’s eighth-grade students.

Massachusetts spends $113,920 per student by the end of eighth grade, while Idaho’s spending for the same period totals $68,200. Additionally, the District of Columbia earns the same overall letter grade Idaho does and they are only 1 percent above Idaho students in eighth grade reading proficiency, although they spend two and a half times as much per student.

I agree with state Sen. Steven Thayn, who points out that “measuring and ranking Idaho by spending alone does not give a clear picture of the state of education in Idaho.” Obviously, we are getting a greater bang for our educational buck. Instead of focusing on our purported 50th-place ranking (in spending), we should be pleased with the results we are achieving. There is, of course, always room for improvement. The status quo is not good enough, and our children deserve better. We will continue to strive for improvement across the board, but we should also be rightfully proud of our schools, teachers, administrators and parents.

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We will continue to work with the Governor’s Task force for Improving Education to ensure we are always spending our money in smarter and more efficient ways. There is a lot of good news to report about Idaho’s education results.

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