The current state of education in Idaho could be condensed into one of those melodramatic movie trailers: “In a world where 60 percent of jobs require some post-secondary education, fewer than 40 percent of Idahoans have any credentials beyond a high school diploma.”
In fact, that’s the message state schools Superintendent Tom Luna delivered to a special legislative committee on Thursday. With an above-average high school graduation rate, the state might seem like it’s doing well, but the “stark reality,” Luna said, is that the high rate is the product of low standards.
The proof is the low percentage of Idahoans who seek to further their education, whether at college or in a technical school. Plus, a high percentage of those who do enroll in colleges need remedial course work to catch up.
But the good news is that Idaho leaders are not satisfied.
Gov. Butch Otter put together a 31-person task force to address these shortcomings, and it released a plan last week calling for a $350 million investment in education and beefed-up academic standards. The state has cut education in recent years, and this proposal would restore those funds. In addition, teacher pay, which is woefully below average nationally, would be increased.
Common Core standards, which have been a recent target of misinformation, would be adopted, which would position Idaho students to better compete in college and on the job. The inclusion of Common Core alone makes the plan controversial, though it shouldn’t. Contrary to concerns, local control would not be lost to national or international interests.
Idaho isn’t alone in needing to infuse more rigor. All states need to raise their game to match the rapid changes in the global economy. It’s not a matter of the American educational system becoming worse; it’s that global competitors have gotten better. The proof is in international comparisons, where U.S. students lag in key areas. Comparing current American scores with previous ones misses the point.
A few numbers from Get2Core, a group promoting Common Core, sum up the current state of U.S. education:
• Among developed countries, American 15-year-olds ranked 21st in science and 25th in math.
• Only 31 percent of high school graduates are ready for college coursework.
• Some 75 percent of ninth-graders will get a diploma, 44 percent will go to college and only 21 percent will have a diploma within six years of entering college.
There was a time when that would’ve been fine, but it’s long gone. Many of the blue-collar jobs that formed the foundation of the middle class have been discontinued or shipped overseas. Technology has transformed the economy, which now needs more educated workers.
Otter’s task force has delivered a commendable plan that reflects today’s reality. Superintendent Luna is working hard to promote it. Now the Legislature needs to get on board, so the state can catch up.