Community Blog: The EDge

What the K-12 task force wants to discuss, and what it doesn’t want to discuss

The governor’s education reform task force wraps up its statewide road show Thursday night in Boise.

If this listening session goes like the preceding six, it’s likely that the testimony will focus on funding and Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of the multistate Common Core effort. Those have been two recurring themes from the other sessions, including Tuesday night’s session in Pocatello.

But this task force tour has been nothing if not unpredictable.

Nampa forum
Richard Westerberg of the State Board of Education kicks off the task force forums April 10 in Nampa.

Crowds have varied widely from city to city, from sparse in Lewiston and Twin Falls to near capacity in Idaho Falls. And the testimony has taken on an open-ended feel. Task force members have heard everything from the heartfelt (from parents who question whether schools can adequately teach children with autism) to the offbeat (from a speaker who said Idaho should encourage the use of e-readers, so kids aren’t overburdened with heavy backpacks).

Ask Idahoans how the state should improve its education system, and you’re apt to get any number of responses. Especially when the Common Core controversy has taken on a talk-radio life of its own in recent weeks.

So let’s go back to where the task force started, two weeks ago, when these forums began.

The task force posed eight questions designed to get people talking. They’re on the State Board of Education’s website, but let’s save a keystroke. Here they are:

  1. What is the basic amount of funding needed to adequately educate a student in Idaho?
  2. ˜Given the finite amount of funding, how would you like it spent in your school?
  3. ˜How should/could we balance a decentralized model with the Constitutional requirement for a uniform, thorough, common system of education?
  4. Is funding based on attendance an appropriate model?
  5. ˜What should be the measure(s) to hold schools and districts accountable?
  6. ˜What should we be measuring with respect to student achievement?
  7. ˜What should be done about schools/districts that continually underperform?
  8. ˜What professional technical education skills would you like to see taught in high school?

Yes, you see several questions about funding. And why not? Education funding is a perennial Idaho issue. And in theory, the task force could have some say over where education dollars go (see Question No. 2). The Legislature earmarked some $34 million in one-time money for schools in 2013-14 — temporary spending on merit pay, professional development and technology, designed to free up money in 2014, at the task force’s disposal.

But you don’t see a question that addresses Common Core, even obliquely. And here’s a possible reason: It’s a settled issue. The State Board approved the math and English language arts standards in November 2010. And the House and Senate education committees approved the standards in January 2011 — amidst the heated debate over the Students Come First bills. Schools will begin teaching to Idaho Core Standards in 2013-14, four months from now.

So the task force has some pretty clear ideas of what it wants to talk about. Whether these topics come up Thursday night is another matter entirely.

Follow us Thursday (and Friday): We’ll have Thursday’s task force forum covered with live tweets @idahoednews and full coverage at idahoednews.org Friday morning.

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

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