An interim committee of the Idaho Legislature met Tuesday to learn about the current condition and future hopes for K-12 public education. What it heard was a plea for more technical training of students, additional computer learning, more emphasis on ag education, support for charter schools, three divergent groups backing recommendations from the governor’s task force on education and an update on the state’s online instructional content.
In addition, a Senate committee chairman expressed his support to IdahoReporter.com for some sort of merit pay system for high-performing teachers.
During nearly seven hours of presentations, the K-12 Educational System Interim Committee—comprised of members of both the House and the Senate—heard testimony from public education professionals and stakeholders from across the state.
“This is reaching a crisis,” said Darrin Strickler of Tactical Solutions, Inc. Strickler was part of a panel headed up by Jeff Sayer, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, that presented ideas to the committee about how K-12 public education can better train students for the labor force.
Strickler said that the College of Western Idaho is “doing a great job” on technical education and training, but he said he hopes that K-12 education will become more geared toward professional and technical curriculum.
Joining Sayer and Strickler were Todd Schwartz, administrator for the Idaho State Division of Professional-Technical Education, Jerry Whitehead of Western Trailers, Inc., and Ken Holsinger of Klowd.com.
“We employ over 300 people at our Boise manufacturing plant,” said Whitehead. “We have over 100 welders on staff, and we always need more,” he told the committee, as he listed several job openings that he said were in the “skilled and technical” realm. “The skilled workers we have are generally coming from somewhere else, either that or we have to train them within.” He lamented that K-12 public schools do not better prepare students to work in his company.
“How do we connect the dots on that?” Rep. Reid DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, a member of the committee, asked the panelists. “How do we make sure that we’re giving businesses what they need? Help us understand that.”
“We need to educate the educators,” Whitehead said, noting that his company would be willing to work with school teachers and districts.
Strickler recommended that Idaho students be taught HTML (the technical “coding” that most web platforms use) as a foreign language.
Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, told Schwartz that “there is backlog of students trying to get into the welding program at CSI (College of Southern Idaho). That sounds like a funding issue, more than anything, isn’t it?”
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Schwartz replied, “I don’t think it’s so simple that it’s about funding, alone.”
Along with presentations on professional-technical curriculum, the committee heard presentations on agricultural education.
Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, noted to the committee that “63 percent of vocational education students go on to a higher certificate or degree, and they complete those degrees, and most of them get a job.” However, Brackett added that among students who do not participate in agricultural education, only 47 percent of them go on for higher education after high school.
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said that there is a “disconnect” between the needs of Idaho employers and the level of industrial and computer science curriculum. “Our education system has simply not kept pace with the shifts in the economy,” she noted, but also said that she believes there will be an effort in the coming legislative session to make computer science a curriculum requirement.
Additionally, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, pointed to recent public opinion data that indicated that large portions of teenagers and young adults don’t want to work for a living. “This is what we’re dealing with,” she said to fellow committee members and the panel. “Perhaps we need a work ethics training curriculum in Idaho.”
Advocates on behalf of the Idaho charter school movement also presented to the committee. Don Keller, president of Sage International Charter School in Boise and a prominent charter school advocate, stated that charter schools are serving as “incubators of innovation” where new educational ideas emerge and are then adopted by conventional public schools. Keller also testified that many of the best reforms that have been introduced in Idaho public schools in the past years would not have emerged were it not for the competition that charter schools pose to their traditional school counterparts.
Keller presented in tandem with Terry Ryan, the newly installed president of the Idaho Charter Schools Network. Ryan reiterated several important statistics about the charter school movement within the state: There are more than 40 schools that currently educate in excess of 18,000 students, with 8,000 students on charter school waiting lists.
“I believe the challenge from this point forward is allowing more replication of current charter school models” Ryan told the committee. He said his goal is to double the number of charter schools in Idaho within six years.
In what some deemed a surprise development, the interim committee heard a message of unanimity from the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA), the Idaho School Administrators Association (ISAA) and the Idaho Education Association (IEA), the state’s largest labor union representing teachers.
Karen Echeveria, of the ISBA, spoke to the committee on behalf of all three organizations, noting that the groups have been meeting privately to discuss the findings of Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force.
“All three of our organizations agree on all of the recommendations from the task force,” Echeveria told the committee. She expressed the group’s collective desire that all of the agenda items are implemented at some point, rather than the Legislature picking and choosing certain proposals and ignoring others.
Idaho’s deputy state superintendent of education, Roger Quarles, updated the committee on the implementation of Schoolnet, the state’s online instructional content management system. A spokesperson for the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation also testified to the committee and noted that it would offer additional funding for the project once it sees the results of the next phase of testing yet to be completed on the system.
Prior to the interim committee meeting, Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, spoke with IdahoReporter.com about an issue that at times has been contentious among Idaho education stakeholders—bonus pay for high performing teachers.
Noting that it is difficult to decipher which teachers are high performing and which are not, Goedde nonetheless said he is determined to find a way to reward deserving teachers, proposing that local school district administrators should play a role in that process.
To listen to the full discussion with Goedde, click HERE.