Reviewing the increases that the school budget received this year, state Superintendent Sherri Ybarra called the $27.3 million that lawmakers approved last year to increase discretionary funds to school district “a huge highlight.” She said it provided the crucial money school districts need for such expenses and heat and lights. She’s also gone through each line item approved last year, from a $5 million increase in classroom technology to a $1 million allocation for “mastery-based system development.”
Moving to a system where children advance in school based on mastery of the material, rather than just on the time they’ve spent, is among the recommendations of the governor’s school improvement task force. “Currently 19 schools and districts have been awarded a grant through this program and they’ve moved forward in improving their goals and strategies,” she said. “I’ve said in the past that mastery based is not going to happen overnight.” Instead, she said, it’s “generational.” Ultimately, Ybarra said, it should result in an education system that “has the capability to adapt to student needs, coach our students individually” and help students learn.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, asked what time frame is likely for implementing master-based education. Ybarra deferred to her mastery-based director, Kelly Brady, who said the current grants to districts run for three years, with implementation happening in the second and third years. Asked how long until the concept spreads statewide, Brady said, “Wow, that’s a wonderful question. Because this is a generational change, it will take some time. Right now we have a number of schools that are excited about starting this process, so even though they’re not part of the grant we’re still supporting their efforts.”
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, asked about the $5 million increase this year in college and career counseling. “We’re beginning to see some traction,” said state Department of Education staffer Matt McCarter. “We’re in the initial phases, but we see great promise in what we’ve achieved so far.”
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said, “Just a real quick question: I know that we’re looking at professional development. Within that scope, are you doing any kind of training for principals on the evaluation tool?” Ybarra responded, “Yes, I’ll get into that in a little bit more detail in my fiscal year ’18 budget request, but we do have something called the Idaho Principals Network in which we are training principals on the evaluation system and some other topics as well, but the main focus is the evaluation system.”