Idaho Education Policy and Goals Are Not Aligned | SehndeWeb

Right now, the education headlines are about critical race theory, school choice, LGBT ideology, and, especially in Idaho, parental rights. Each of these important debates looms large in public discourse. But the spotlight that has been placed on these emotionally charged topics has caused them to completely overshadow a fundamental problem: There is a serious disconnect between Idaho’s education policy and state goals.

Idaho’s goal since 2010 is to have 60% of the adult population, ages 25 to 34, have completed some kind of high school education. To make progress toward that goal, the state has attempted to increase the “continuation” rate, or the percentage of graduating seniors who continue their education at a state college next fall. This effort came in the form of four areas: student achievement testing, college scholarships, college and career counselors, and advanced opportunities. Each area is designed to make secondary education more accessible to students, in particular by reducing the financial barrier to college.

Of course, it’s expensive, costing well over $100 million over the past few years. And of these four areas, Advanced Opportunities has seen the strongest growth. The cost for the 2016-17 school year was supposed to be $5.5 million, but came in at $11.7 million. In 2018-19, the cost was $19.25 million for the year. This money allows students like me to take college courses while still in high school and pursue other high school opportunities.

Logically, this plan makes sense. To increase the number of adults who have completed high school, especially at the college level, the state should make it easier for students to enter this path. This can be done by starting a student’s college career early. Unfortunately, after several years of these programs, progress toward the 60% goal and increasing the “follow-up” rate has stalled.

This situation begs the question: Why isn’t Idaho making progress toward its goals when it is spending more and more money on these programs? The answer is simple, yet elusive at the same time. Because all it takes is to realize that this money is massively used by

students like me, who have always planned to go to university. That’s where the funding request comes from. These programs do not convince students who have no high school plans to go to college.

Of course, we are left with the question: what do we do about it? What is the question that kept asking me and all the adults who participated in my research. The beginning of an answer came back in November 2021, when I interviewed Kevin Richert as part of my research paper. During our discussion, I asked Mr. Richert why he thought these programs did not appeal to the generally more disadvantaged students they are supposed to help.

Mr. Richert began his response by acknowledging that this is an important question which he also attempted to answer. Because when you’re already planning to go to college, it makes sense to take a lot of those credits at a state-covered price. He doesn’t say it’s a bad thing, but says it helps students who are already wired for college, not to convince students who don’t want to go to college to “keep going.”

Thanks in part to our discussion, and talking to my high school peers, I’ve concluded that Idaho’s methods for reaching the 60% goal and increasing the “continuation” rate are misaligned. This is because most students who do not plan to continue their education after high school are unconvinced by those pushing them to go to college.

The next step for Idaho is to focus on improving secondary education so students can get to the point where they want to take advantage of programs like Advanced Opportunities. It’s time for Idaho to stop trying to use high school education to fill the gaps in public high schools, to stop leaving high school students behind, Idaho’s highest education priority. education must be to convince students of the value of education.

About Evan Higbee

Evan Higbee is a senior at Kimberly High School. Evan has been a member of the National Speech and Debate Association and Business Professionals of America for four years, competing in the National Informative Speech and Improvised Speech Championships, respectively.

Read more stories by Evan Higbee »

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