Looking Back on Our First 50 Years: Building a Foundation for Change in Idaho

By Marybeth Flachbart
October 2015

State and local leaders in Idaho recognize that a high school diploma is no longer sufficient to guarantee employment. According to a workforce needs study by Idaho Business for Education (IBE), a group of business leaders dedicated to preparing students for the demands of an evolving workforce, Idaho employers say that 61 percent of jobs in the state by 2018 will require a post-secondary credential, 43 percent will require a bachelor’s degree or higher, and only 22 percent of jobs will be open to people with a high school diploma or less. The IBE study also projects that the degree areas that will be in greatest demand by 2018 include computer science/technology; business and economics; engineering; health science; and communications and that jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher will be the most difficult to fill. Yet, like across much of the rest of the country, not nearly enough Idaho citizens are completing college.

In 2010, the State Board of Education set a goal that 60 percent of Idaho citizens between the ages of 25 and 34 would have a postsecondary degree or certificate by the year 2020. To meet that goal, state and local leaders have had to consider both the systemic obstacles (academic preparedness, geography, admission requirements, financial impacts) and cultural obstacles (first-generation college attendance, shifting mindsets, family support for additional education, delayed earning) that may impede Idahoans from earning postsecondary education.

Education Northwest is pleased to be both part of this conversation and part of the solution by offering research and technical assistance as the state tackles these complex problems. For the past four years we have been working with Idaho stakeholders on specific initiatives to ensure that a system of support is in place for all students and all schools. In that time, we have supported the implementation of college and career readiness standards, teacher and principal effectiveness measures, and systems of support for low-performing schools.

For example, school improvement is at the heart of the Idaho System of Recognition, Accountability, and Support Research Alliance (ID SRAS), a partnership between REL Northwest and Idaho education stakeholders to conduct, interpret, and communicate research. The research alliance draws its members from the Idaho State Department of Education, state technical assistance providers, and school district staff who collaborate on studying school improvement characteristics and supports through activities such as inquiry processes and collecting and using data to make informed improvements to programs.

Other examples of Education Northwest’s work in the state include NW RISE, a network and learning community that connects schools in some of the Northwest’s most isolated and remote communities, including four from Idaho (Bliss, Garden Valley, Genesee, and Glenns Ferry). We also recently completed a four-year impact study of Project GLAD, a classroom intervention for English learners, conducted in 30 Idaho schools.

Our past and continuing work and collaborations have built a solid foundation for us to assist the state with the challenge of preparing students for a changing economy. And the good news is the state is making progress, such as the recent expansion of the Pathways to Technology, Early College High School (PTECH) program dedicated to helping students develop the skills needed in Idaho’s emerging industries.