Now is the time to empower Idaho parents and educators

Change is hard. Idaho families have had a heaping help of it this past year as they have had to navigate COVID-19 and school closures, hybrid learning, split-schedules, asynchronous learning, etc., etc. Idaho educators have also been asked to adapt and change what they do and how they approach their profession. It has not been easy on anyone involved in education.

The Idaho Legislature and our state policy makers have been working to learn some of the lessons of the last year and to make some necessary improvements to Idaho’s education system. There are also some lawmakers, lobbyists and education advocates that are simply seizing the day to push ideas they have been working on for years if not decades. Some of these ideas are good and some are not.

If Idaho education is to come out of COVID-19 stronger than we went into it, then we should ask three fundamental questions about every education policy proposal:

  1. Will this cause more harm than good?
  2. Will this help improve learning opportunities for our children and empower parents?
  3. Will this make it easier or harder for our educators to serve their children well and serve their students?

First do no harm. That sage advice from the medical profession should be applied to education and public policy more generally. Does the propose change intentionally or unintentionally hurt students? Might it decrease rather than increase opportunities for certain categories of students?

As an example, our well-intentioned but misguided “college for all” approach to education over the last couple of decades came at the expense of many of our young people who simply wanted to graduate high school and be able to get a job that pays a living wage and allows them to have and raise a family. It’s good that we are now seeing a rebirth of Career Tech Education in America and Idaho that really is about preparing young graduates for jobs that pay well and are important to the overall health of our economy. What we now call essential jobs. We have some great examples in Idaho in Elevate Academy in Caldwell, KTEC in Kootenai County and Compass High School in Idaho Falls. But there is a lot more to do on this front and to their credit, our state government and local communities are tackling this challenge.

Second, will this change, policy or effort improve learning for our children? Two things we know that really help children learn are empowered parents and great teachers. Idaho has done some things in recent decades that have empowered parents to have more influence on their children’s education and learning. This has included the Advanced Opportunities program, magnet school programs, open enrollment and public charter schools.

This past year Idaho launched the Strong Families, Strong Students program using $50 million in CARES Act dollars. This was a huge success and value add for Idaho parents of all types, but especially those parents with students in public district and public charter schools (see Table 1).

Table 1: SFSS Breakout of Children Served by School Type and Dollars Amounts (CARES Act)

School Type Total Students Served Total Dollars Allocated
Home-School 4,872 $1,917,000
Private 2,162 $950,000
Public/Charter 74,349 $44,562,500
Totals: 81,383 Children $47,429,500

Data comes from the Idaho State Board of Education

Third, will this make it easier or harder for our educators to serve their children well and serve their students? One thing we know is that teachers do better with students who are at or close to grade level in literacy and numeracy skills. It’s for this reason that Bluum, with grant support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, supports an all-day kindergarten pilot program for 17 schools and over 1,000 students across Idaho. Based on the experience of these schools and what national research shows, Idaho lawmakers are wise to be discussing and exploring ways to make all-day kindergarten available for more Idaho families that need it.

Empowering educators with choice is not as important as empowering parents and students with choice, but it is a close second. People ask me why the schools of choice we support tend to be some of the highest performing in Idaho. The assumption is its money. But it’s not. It’s because the educators running the schools and those working in the school own the mission and are there by choice.

Most often, education laws that say “may” rather than “must” provide more choices for educators and parents alike. Empowering educators with options and choice as to where they work, how they educate, how they run their schools, and how they spend their money is better than scripting it in law, code and policies that always fall short.

 

Terry Ryan

About Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan is CEO of the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum and Board Chair of the Idaho Charter School Network.

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