Super supers have much to offer Idaho

Idaho is making the right moves to improve its education system. But we shouldn’t ignore opportunities to learn more as we go. To set our kids up for success in work and life, we’re smart to ensure that more students graduate from high school and go on to obtain post-secondary credentials.

A year ago the Governor’s Task Force on Education issued 20 recommendations to move the education system forward. That was followed by the 2014 Legislature which made a decent down payment on restoring funding cut during the recession and tackling some Task Force recommendations.

Now our charge is to take key Task Force recommendations and get them adopted by the 2015 Legislature. These include more autonomy and accountability for student academic outcomes for local schools; ensuring we have effective teachers in every classroom and that we pay them a competitive salary and strengthening our literacy law so every student knows how to read proficiently.

All of this is very positive, but Idaho still has a long way to go. Just last month we heard the disappointing news that a lower percentage of 2013 high school graduates went on to post-secondary education than the year before. That’s why it’s important for us to continue looking at best practices and seeing what we can apply in Idaho.

This September we have the opportunity to learn from three outstanding education leaders: Dr. Nancy Grasmick, the former superintendent of the Maryland Public Schools; Dr. David Driscoll, the former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education; and Dr. Eric Smith, the former Florida Education Commissioner.

They will speak on Sept. 9 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at a free “Ed Session” event sponsored by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. The event, which will be held at the Linen Building and also streamed live online, is billed as “The Super Supers: What Can Idaho Learn from the Nation’s Best State School Superintendents.”

On nearly any national ranking, Massachusetts schools usually come out on top. Part of the credit goes to Driscoll, who led that state’s schools from 1999 to 2007. In 2005 and 2007, Massachusetts became the first state to earn the highest score on all four exams conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In 2008, Massachusetts students achieved one of the highest scores in the world on the International Mathematics and Science Study.

Grasmick had an equally strong record in Maryland where she served for 20 years. In 2012, a Harvard University study declared that Maryland won the “gold medal” by having the highest student academic growth in the U.S. between 1992 and 2009. Four years in a row Education Week ranked Maryland schools best in the nation.

In Florida, Smith helped increase enrollment in rigorous courses and advanced studies, raised reading and math scores and made progress in reducing the achievement gap among that state’s minority students.

Intelligent, effective and visionary leadership is key to success in any enterprise, whether it’s business or education. Strong education leaders can help make the difference between subpar, average and outstanding student achievement.

Just as every student deserves an effective teacher, every teacher and student deserves an effective leader, whether at the state, district or school level. That’s why it is important for us to hear from these three successful state education leaders.

Hopefully you can attend the “Super Supers” Ed Session either in person or by watching a live stream of it at theedsessions.org. Learning from the best of the best can help Idaho build on the positive momentum we’ve already established toward greater academic excellence.

Rod Gramer is President of Idaho Business for Education.