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This time around on education reform, let’s start with collaboration

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Idaho voters spoke clearly with regard to Propositions 1, 2 and 3. We at the Boise School District believe much of the message they sent had to do with the process used in passing the laws that were the subject of the referenda.

Moving forward, we recognize the need for a focused, collaborative discussion among teachers, administrators, business leaders, community members, policymakers and legislators. We intend to engage stakeholders in pursuing a comprehensive course of action to continue preparing Idaho students for college, career and citizenship. The time is now; we cannot afford to let this opportunity for our children pass.

True collaboration is not easy. In fact, as we developed our strategic plan, we found that the process was often messy and cumbersome. It required the willingness to compromise, an understanding of the complex issues surrounding the change process, and recognition that systemic change takes time. The result is a unified plan that drives decision-making at all levels of the district. For these reasons, we must engage in a collaborative process for the benefit of Idaho students.

Idaho education faces a huge challenge in the next several years. In 2014-15, students will take a new assessment of college- and career-ready skills for the first time, as part of the 32-state Smarter Balance consortium. The content basis for the new assessment is the Common Core, a framework that emphasizes higher-level thinking skills and rigorous content. This assessment will replace the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests.

Preparation for the Common Core is already under way, and requires rewriting and reorganization of curricular topics, new content delivery methods and revamped instructional strategies. The Boise district has been preparing for the Common Core for the past three years through our strategic plan initiatives.

Central components of the strategic plan include an emphasis on access to accelerated and Advanced Placement coursework, integration of technology in the classroom, accountability and transparency, and research-based instructional practices. These and other elements of the plan are creating a strong foundation for further preparation of our students for global competitiveness.

We believe that students will gravitate to rigorous coursework if we provide the encouragement, background and the belief that they can succeed. In 2003, only 18 percent of Boise seventh-graders were enrolled in accelerated coursework. Last year, 42 percent were enrolled. Further, we know that when local leaders talked of shortages in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields, our students responded. In the class of 2008, more than 30 percent of district college graduates to date have majored in STEM fields (the largest percentage of any major area).

Additionally, statewide student achievement has improved substantially over the past five years. For example, in 2007, 32 percent of Idaho students achieved “advanced” status on the Reading ISAT. By 2011, the percentage of advanced students had increased to more than 50 percent. It’s evident, then, that many districts across the state have implemented successful reform strategies. We are confident that the opportunity for collaboration will provide examples of systemic change that will result in a cohesive vision for the future of Idaho education.

Success in this collaborative effort will help everyone: students, teachers, policymakers, business leaders and future Idahoans. A strong educational system is the most important economic development tool we have, and it’s worth fighting for.

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Don Coberly has been superintendent of the Boise School District since July 2010. He has worked for the district since 1985, and graduated from Borah High School in the BSD. His bachelor’s and doctoral degrees are from the University of Idaho. He received his master’s degree from Boise State University. The Boise School District Board of Trustees opposed Propositions 1, 2 and 3.

About Don Coberly

One comment

  1. Don Coberly should run for state superintendent of public instruction.

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