Expanding Excellence for Idaho’s Children

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By Suzanne Metzgar

It may not be gaining national attention—at least not yet—but an educational renaissance is transpiring right here in the Gem State. Bluum is a new organization working to revolutionize educational opportunities for Idaho’s children. Our early successes, combined with the transformational work underway, has the potential to reshape the education landscape for future generations.

Created just two short years ago, Bluum was established to achieve the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation ‘20 in 10’ vision—that is, create 20,000 new seats in high-quality schools within a decade of its founding, and we have made significant progress toward achieving these goals.

Our efforts come into the spotlight as we once again celebrate National School Choice Week; Jan. 22-28. This year, millions of American students, parents, teachers, and educators will gather at more than 21,000 events nationwide to mark the impact that school choice brings to the lives of children and parents.

With our support, the first innovation school is opening next fall in the Nampa School District looks to use technology to allow students to learn at their own pace. The regulatory freedom provided by the innovation schools model will also empower school leaders, giving them more influence over things like hiring, budgets, etc. Creating a new culture of innovation, one that empowers teachers and principals to think outside the status quo, will foster improvements in the educational environment.

Unfortunately, the educational environment in Idaho needs bettering. Nearly half (49%) of Idaho students live in poverty. Yet education is becoming more important than ever: Next year, 60 percent of jobs in the Gem State will require some form of post-secondary education. At a time when American students recently ranked 17th in reading, 20th in science, and an appalling 27th out of 34 developed countries in math skills, improving the educational system—immediately and dramatically—is a critical national priority.

In Idaho, approximately one-fifth of the state’s 321,000 students attend a school other than their traditional neighborhood public school, while 73 percent of Idaho parents say they would choose a different option if they had the choice. That trend represents welcome progress, but we shouldn’t rest until all parents have the opportunity to choose the educational option—whether a charter school, a newly created innovation school, online learning, home-schooling, private education, or their neighborhood public school—that best meets their children’s needs.

Thankfully, Bluum has the opportunity to plant the seeds of educational success—seeds that can then sprout and grow, across Idaho and throughout our country. By promoting and supporting innovation schools and other new models, offering support and management assistance to administrators and providing fellowships to educators who want to create new, high-performing schools, we are working to provide more—and better—educational options to under-served Idaho communities. This National School Choice Week (Jan. 22-28, 2017), the educational renaissance sparked by organizations like ours is one we should all celebrate.