HP IBE education study

From left, economist Marcela Escobari of the Brookings Institution, Gus Schmedlen of Hewlett Packard and Rod Gramer, president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, present the results of a new study of Idaho’s education system and economy on Thursday at the state Capitol.

BOISE — Hewlett Packard and Idaho Business for Education on Thursday released the initial results from a huge, five-month study of education and the economy in Idaho, with recommendations ranging from focusing on early literacy to dealing with mental health issues in Idaho schools that are detracting from teaching and college and career counseling.

HP funded the study, brought in experts and contacted 2,000 Idahoans through surveys, focus groups, interviews and more over the course of five months. The reason: They say they are part of Idaho’s future and want an educated workforce here.

“We are a stakeholder in Idaho’s future,” said Gus Schmedlen, HP’s vice president for worldwide education.

He said the main finding is an “astounding” consensus — from business, students, teachers, parents, stakeholders and more — that what Idaho’s education system needs to equip kids with is “grit and determination, personal responsibility and above all flexibility” so they can learn the technologies and fill the jobs of the future.

The study’s top five recommendations:

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  • A statewide vision for education that honors local autonomy.
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  • A focus on literacy, from pre-K to third grade.
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  • Amplifying college and career pathways, so students as early as middle school know what’s available to them.
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  • Elevating the teaching profession so teachers feel valued, including addressing appropriate credentialing in subject areas being taught and easing pressure on border communities losing teachers to higher-paying neighboring states.
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  • Addressing mental health issues that are affecting Idaho schools.

“This is an emerging issue that’s getting worse,” Schmedlen said. They turned up in an array of different environments across the state, from angst-ridden students at high-performing schools to serious unaddressed needs in rural areas.

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Marcela Escobari, an economist with the Brookings Institution who took part in the study, said people in Idaho were well aware of the numbers, including the state’s high suicide rate. Researchers were struck, she said, by “how pervasive it was across socio-economic levels … and the bandwidth it took from teachers.”

The study will go to Gov. Brad Little’s education improvement task force; the governor, state schools superintendent and other officials already have been briefed on it. The final report will be published in August, and all its data turned over to an Idaho research institution so it can be utilized in future studies to show trends.

“We have no political agenda,” Schmedlen said.

HP has done similar studies in places including Hungary and Ecuador.

Bill Avey, HP vice president, said, “As a company with deep roots in Idaho, HP is proud to partner with Idaho Business for Education on the HP Idaho Education Study. It is clear from the study’s findings that Idaho’s vibrant growth is inextricably tied to the performance of its education system, and that broad consensus exists among parents, teachers and business.”

He said the company considers studies like one this part of its “social responsibility mission.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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