Stay focused with a logical timeline for action

As a superintendent, a parent, and a taxpayer — I firmly believe we all have a responsibility to find ways to work together to improve Idaho’s schools and boost student achievement.

As a member of IASA (Idaho Association of School Administrators), I have been working with my colleagues to engage other stakeholders in discussions about the next steps for educational improvement in Idaho, in light of the recent repeal of the Students Come First laws.

“Student achievement” what does that really mean? Ah, therein lies the rub. As Idahoans, can we agree on what we want from our public education system? What is it that we want all our students to achieve? It seems like in today’s Idaho classrooms, everything we do is about standardized tests. If we cannot see how a child, a teacher, a school, a district, a community measure up on “the tests” then the message is it is not worth doing (aka not worth funding, not worth monitoring, not worth talking about).

However, the problem most educators have is that it appears what we value (aka what we test, monitor, provide funding for) changes regularly. “AYP is the most valid and important measure, no wait, it is the five-star rating system, no wait, it is median growth scores on the ISAT, no wait, the ISAT is outdated in another year it is the SBAC, no wait, it is the college retention rate of our graduated students…” Our teachers and our students are suffering from initiative fatigue!

We need our state leaders and lawmakers to sharpen the focus and help stabilize our system so our students can achieve at high levels. I realize many lawmakers felt they had done this with the passage of SCF, and I also realize that many felt they had done this with the repeal of SCF. Both sides have valid points, but now is not the time to take sides. The elections are over and we need to find commonalities and move forward.

There is a logical timeline for action – 3 weeks, 3 months, and 3 years.

Within three weeks (by the end of January)

We need lawmakers to do some “housekeeping” to address immediate fiscal issues related to the repeal of SCF legislation. Districts need to know prior to February what they can count on for revenue in their current budgets that were adopted in good faith. In order to stabilize our districts and allow our students and teachers to continue the work they started this year we need:

  • Dual credit funding (under prop 3).
  • Funding to implement the new math and science requirements.
  • Technology funding for classroom integration of technology.
  • Use it or lose it flexibility (under prop 3).
  • Funding to restore education credits for instructional staff that was previously frozen.
  • Funding to maintain the increase in minimum teacher salaries.
  • Funding to restore the “lottery money” for maintenance of school facilities.

Within 3 months or by the end of the 2013 Idaho Legislative session

We need lawmakers to invest in Idaho students by providing:

  • Competitive compensation for the recruitment and retention of 21st century educational professionals.
  • Professional development and mentoring to support our teachers as they continue to integrate technology, use longitudinal data to drive instruction, and plan for the implementation of the Common Core.
  • Continued support for the successful implementation of ISEE in every school district (Idaho longitudinal data system).
  • Additional operations funding for transportation, utilities, employee insurance, instructional materials, plant facility maintenance, and technology infrastructure to accommodate the SBAC assessment.

Within three years

“Idaho should be a global leader, providing high quality, cost effective education to its citizens.” In order to achieve this vision from the Transformational Education Agenda for the State of Idaho (State Department of Education we need all stakeholder groups to participate in good faith in the Governor’s Task Force being led by the State Board of Education. This group must reach consensus on the focus for our next steps in Idaho education reform. The Task Force must come out with a clear communication plan that identifies the goals for Idaho K-12 education, the measures, and the components in order to build widespread support with stakeholders. The group will need to address how the Common Core State Standards fit into the improvement efforts. Educators across our state recognize that the Common Core State Standards and the new SBAC assessment have been chosen by Idaho to guide the work in our schools.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative was founded in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers – 46 states are implementing the CCSS and technologically sophisticated assessments of the standards. Idaho will join 26 other states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) developing a system of valid, reliable, and fair next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts/literacy (ELA/literacy) and mathematics for grades 3-8 and 11. The CCSS and SBAC will replace our current ISATs and Idaho standards with the idea that our students will be better prepared for college and 21st century careers. In the words of Todd Whitaker, “The U.S. became a great country by doing new and better things, not by repetitively enhancing minimal skills. A friend of mine once said, ‘If we want to get to the moon, we cannot just keep building faster trains; at some point, we are going to need a rocket.”

Is the Common Core the rocket that will launch Idaho public education into the role of being a global leader? If so, we need to change our thinking and embrace the new standards – they are not just the same old curriculum in a new package. The Common Core State Standards will significantly change the way teachers teach and students learn. Are we ready Idaho to be a leader among 26 other states on the SBAC assessment?

We owe it to our children to get ready, and give them a fighting chance, as their scores will no doubt be measured against students across the nation on these common assessments.