Let’s prepare Idaho kids for Idaho jobs

Idaho’s next State Superintendent needs a vision where skills, preparation, and job readiness puts students first and restores value to education. I think we can agree that we want every student to have access to the knowledge, credentials, and vocational programs that are needed to not only succeed, but to thrive in our changing world. What I’d like to add to this discussion is my reason for prioritizing these efforts. I believe emphasizing and expanding our career and technical training is how we educate Idaho kids to be independent citizens.

We are responsible for developing self-governing adults who can successfully manage life decisions. We want students who can think for themselves, be creative, and know how to solve problems.

I speak with families and business owners all over the state who want our young people to know of the opportunities in their own backyards. Many of our business leaders are more interested in seeing that a kid had a successful lawn mowing business during the summer than a high test score on an exam. Employers are interested in experience and the commitment someone has to starting and finishing something. This says a lot about how they will perform on the job. Work-based learning is valuable and can be equal to any goal and pursuit.

Skill development can be a means for reducing many behavioral and emotional issues students are struggling to overcome. I want to focus on skills and training in schools to increase resilience and grit for kids in a world of social media and other negative outside influences.

There are many startling data points about today’s kids. Among them are national trends that show many milestones toward adulthood are delayed. Statistics show that our young people have less life experience than they have had in the past, especially during the time of life where kids need to explore options before they get out into the world and have more serious responsibilities.

The number of twelfth graders who have driver’s licenses is declining. Less young people are dating, have worked for pay, and socialize outside of their phones. As these numbers decrease, we have seen an associated rise in anxiety, depression, and stress.

I do not diminish the serious nature of mental health issues our youth are facing. There are real struggles and trauma for many students and families that require professional help. What I am offering is a perspective that a focus on work, skills, and independence will create confidence and a value of self-worth in our students. With honest and real leadership, we can begin to change these outcomes for our kids.

I have a message that’s much different than my opponents. I believe that a vision for Idaho education has to involve serious policy discussions about prioritizing skills and job readiness. Policy details matter for a 21st-century education. I believe that we are responsible for developing adults who can manage their personal and financial decisions and ultimately become the future builders and leaders for our state and country.

This is why leadership in education is so critical.

Debbie Critchfield

Debbie Critchfield

Debbie Critchfield is Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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