Right now, the headline stories about education concern critical race theory, school choice, LGBT ideology, and especially in Idaho: parental rights. Each of those are important debates that have an important place in the public discourse. But the spotlight that’s been placed on these emotionally charged subjects has caused them to completely overshadow a fundamental problem: there is a severe disconnect between Idaho’s education policy and the state’s goals.
Idaho’s goal since 2010 has been to reach 60% of the adult population, ages 25-34, to have completed some kind of secondary education. To make progress towards that goal, the state has tried to increase the ‘go-on’ rate, or the percentage of graduating seniors who go on to attend an in-state college the next fall. That effort has come in the form of four areas: student achievement tests, college scholarships, college and career advisors, and Advanced Opportunities. Each area is designed to make secondary education more accessible to students, especially by reducing the financial barrier to college.
Of course, this is expensive, costing well over 100 million dollars over the last several years. And out of those four areas, Advanced Opportunities saw the most growth. The cost from the 2016-2017 school year was expected to be $5.5 million but amounted to $11.7 million. By 2018-2019 the cost was $19.25 million for the year. This money allows students like me to take college courses while still in high school and pursue other secondary education opportunities.
Logically, this plan makes sense. To increase the number of adults who have completed secondary education, especially college, the state should make it easier for students to get on that path. That can be done by starting a student’s college career early. Unfortunately, after several years of these programs existing, progress towards the 60% goal and increasing the ‘go-on’ rate have stagnated.
This situation begs the question: why is Idaho not progressing towards its goals when it is spending more and more money on these programs? The answer is simple, and yet elusive at the same time. Because all it requires is the realization that this money is overwhelmingly used by students like me, who have always planned on going to college. This is where the demand for the funding is coming from. These programs are not convincing students who have no plans for any secondary education to go to college.
Of course, we’re still left with the question: what do we do about it? Which is the question that has continued to stump me and all the adults who have been involved with my research. The beginnings of an answer came back in November 2021, when I interviewed Kevin Richert as a part of my research paper. During our discussion, I asked Mr. Richert about why he thinks these programs are not attracting the generally more disadvantaged students they are intended to help.
Mr. Richert began his answer by agreeing that this is an important question he has been working to answer as well. Because when you already plan on going to college it makes sense to take a lot of those credits at a price covered by the state. He does not say this is a bad thing but affirms that it is helping students already hardwired for college, not convincing students who do not want to go to college, to ‘go-on’.
Thanks in part to our discussion, and speaking with my fellow high school students, I have concluded that Idaho’s methods for reaching the 60% goal and increasing the ‘go-on’ rate are misaligned. That is because most students who do not plan on continuing their education after high school are not being convinced by those pushing them to go to college.
The next step for Idaho is to focus on improving high school education so that students can reach the point where they want to take advantage of programs like Advanced Opportunities. It is time for Idaho to stop trying to use secondary education to fill in the cracks in public high schools, to stop leaving high schoolers behind, Idaho’s highest priority in education must be convincing students of the value of education.