There are five major trends driving education change in Idaho. These trends already impact the state’s 320,000 plus public school students, and are sure to drive the conversation and debates around public education in coming years.
First, “demographics is destiny.” Idaho’s population is changing and changing faster than most of us realize. Population and household projections from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that Idaho’s school age population is becoming increasingly urban, more racially diverse, and increasingly from lower income households (see here and here). Between 2000 and 2014, the state’s Hispanic population grew by 93 percent, while the state’s overall population grew by only 26 percent. In some Idaho counties the Hispanic population is rapidly becoming the majority population. In Clark county, for example, while 70 percent of citizens 50 and older are white those between the ages of 20 to 34 are Hispanic. More Idaho children are in poverty. In 2008 16 percent of the state’s children lived in poverty, while that number was 19 percent in 2014 (see here).
Second, there is a growing premium for top-flight educators, both administrators and classroom teachers. Idaho policy makers have responded to this by creating a career ladder that reportedly seeks to improve pay for top performers. Yet, a growing number of schools and districts — especially those in rural remote communities — are struggling to recruit and retain top educators. This is compounded by an acute shortage of teachers in the STEM subjects, teachers who are bi-lingual and those with special education certification. Traditional schools of education are trying to ramp up their efforts to meet these challenges, while alternative talent providers like Teach for America are stepping up to fill gaps in Treasure Valley area schools. The Idaho New School Fellowship, launched just this year, recruits, empowers and supports top school leaders in launching new schools in high-need communities. Despite such efforts, supply for education talent is being steadily outpaced by demand.
Third, Idaho parents like and want more school choice options. The Albertson Foundation’s recent survey Idaho Ready for Change reported, “73 percent of parents said they would prefer that their child attend a private or charter school, while only 26 percent would opt for a traditional district school.” Nationally, 84 percent of Hispanic parents support allowing parents to choose what public school they send their child to (see here). More than a quarter of the state’s K-12 students already attend a school of choice instead of their traditional neighborhood assigned public school. Added to the expanding list of school options available to parents and children are a growing number of course choices, dual-credit opportunities and other alternative learning options that go well beyond the traditional offerings of brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Fourth, technology is changing instruction and learning fast. Idaho was a leader in embracing virtual charter schools in the early 2000s, and there are still close to 5,000 Idaho students enrolled in one of the state’s seven virtual schools. There are thousands more-supplementing their classroom based learning through courses provided by the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and the Khan Academy — a nonprofit with the moniker — “a free, world class education for anyone, anywhere” — features more than 6,500 free videos and advertises more than 100,000 interactive lessons on various subjects. Further, there is increasingly a blurring of lines between online virtual learning and school-based instruction. Innovative public charter schools and school districts are launching blended learning models that provide the 24–7 access to content of virtual schools, but is backed by in-person site-based teacher support that many students need to excel academically. Gem Innovation Schools in Nampa and Pocatello are charter school leader in this space, while the Wilder School District is moving towards a blended learning approach for all of its 440 K-12 students. The era of stand and deliver instruction is rapidly fading into historical oblivion.
Fifth, Idaho’s school funding system is increasingly archaic and faces pressure to change. The state’s funding formula goes back to 1994, and according to the Education Commission of the States, “the current formula did not contemplate a variety of different learning modalities, the increasing mobility of students and the states move toward mastery-based education.” Nor, did it contemplate a system that embraces universal school choice. There is an emerging consensus among state leaders that the time is right for Idaho to craft a new funding system. State lawmakers convened a “School Funding Work Group” and it is committed to finding “a funding framework that better meets the needs of a system that is changing.” House Concurrent Resolution №33, authorized “the Legislative Council to appoint a Committee to Undertake and Complete a Study of the Public School Funding Formula and Make Recommendations.”