I wish I were exaggerating, but I am not. Idaho’s 9th graders enter the workforce in 2020. The research is clear: In 2020, 63 percent of the jobs created in Idaho will require a post-secondary education (1-, 2- or 4+ year degree).
Why is this fact relevant? Because only 34 percent of Idahoans age 25-34 today have that level of education. We need to double the number. And to impact the workforce in 2020, we need to act now. If we don’t have an educated workforce, businesses will stagnate or leave the state. This is already happening today in the technology sector, and the problem is getting worse every year.
Another sobering and indisputable fact is that Idaho is in the bottom five states nationally in nearly every post-secondary metric (go-on rate, drop-out rate, and completion rate) that matters to our future labor force. Our high school students are not prepared for the future. We have a big gap, and it will take a long time to close. Time is not on our side.
This brings us to next week’s vote on Prop 1, 2 & 3. First let me say that we commit a great disservice to our children when we address these complex issues with platitudes, sound-bites, and mud-slinging. I am actively engaged in two statewide and non-partisan organizations, the Idaho Technology Council and Idaho Business for Education, both of which recognized the importance of this vote.
Both organizations responded over the last six months by establishing their own task forces to study the laws, both invited proponents and opponents to present, and both debated the policies in question. Both organizations came to the same conclusion: Yes on 1, Yes on 2, and Yes on 3. And after all the research and debate, was the decision even close? Across both organizations (two task force votes and two executive/membership votes), the votes were 22-3, 14-0, 15-1 and 22-0, for a combined total of 73 “yes” to 4 “no” votes. And both organizations have a mix of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
How did the votes get so lop-sided? Below is a brief summary of why. For a deeper dive into our analysis, go to the ITC website and hit the “About” button for the white paper.
Props 1 and 2 are about labor and compensation issues. But from a business perspective, they are really about the need for flexibility and adaptability. Our current education system was designed in the 1950s, and has proven incapable of adapting to the evolving needs of our business environment. This is evidenced by how poorly the system has adapted to the science, math, and technology shortfalls well understood for more than a decade.
Prop 3 is the technology bill. But from a business perspective, Prop 3 is really about the efficiency and effectiveness of our education system. In the last 30 years, nearly all labor-intensive service industries have dramatically increased productivity. In K-12 education over that same time period, we are half as productive: in other words, we spend twice the money per student, and achieve no better results. This is not about laptops; it is about tools to enable education to begin the transformation to a modern delivery system. We don’t have deep pockets in Idaho – so we need every advantage to enhance teacher productivity and student outcomes.
Opponents have said that none of the laws in question have been proven to help student achievement, and that there is no research to undergird these laws. That’s simply not true. Pay-for-performance leads to increased student achievement and retention of great teachers (see studies from the University of Arkansas and Vanderbilt University).
One-to-one computing devices increase academic achievement for students (see studies from the University of Southern Maine, Texas Center for Educational Research, and/or Project RED).
The research on digital learning shows it is just as effective as traditional learning (see studies by the North Central Regional Education Laboratory and/or Herbert Walberg).
We need progress. We need it now. Let’s vote “Yes” and continue making progress. We can make adjustments as we go, but we can’t wait any longer.
Bob Lokken is the CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics and a successful, long time Idaho entrepreneur. He serves as member of the executive board of two statewide organizations that care deeply about education: The Idaho Technology Council and Idaho Business for Education. He has been active and an outspoken proponent of education in the state for over a decade.