COEUR d'ALENE - Richard Westerberg didn't sugarcoat the state of public education in Idaho, and neither did the citizens who chose to speak Tuesday at the Idaho Task Force for Improving Education's community forum at North Idaho College.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 100, Westerberg, a member of the State Board of Education and task force chair, pointed to several areas of concern that he said highlight the need to find a more fiscally stable and equitable system of funding education while improving educator effectiveness at every level.
Adequate Yearly Progress scores - annual school report cards based on students' standard achievement test scores - have become flat and begun to decline after making gains in the first few years AYP was put into practice, he said.
SAT scores are also unimpressive.
Westerberg said that every high school student in Idaho took one of the standardized college placement tests in 2012, "However, only 1 in 4 of our students met the college readiness benchmark set by the College Board."
The task force's goal, its "guiding principle," he said, is to have 60 percent of the state's 25- to 34-year-olds possess some form of higher education degree by 2020.
Just 35 percent of Idaho citizens in that age bracket hold a postsecondary degree, he said, "Obviously, we have a bunch of work to do."
In addition, 46 percent of the state's recent high school graduates are not prepared to take college courses, and require some form of remedial education.
The task force was convened by Gov. Butch Otter in December, following voters' repeal of the Students Come First education reform legislation in November.
The 31-member panel has met four times since January, and is now traveling around the state, holding community forums. The Coeur d'Alene meeting is the fourth of seven planned forums.
The turnout was significantly higher, Westerberg said, than they've seen at the earlier meetings held in Nampa, Twin Falls and Lewiston. Meetings are scheduled in Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Boise.
"The end goal will be to make recommendations to the governor which he can then forward to the Legislature and, or the appropriate body whether it be the State Board of Education or the local school boards," Westerberg said.
Many of the citizens who attended the Coeur d'Alene forum were educators, and most of the individuals who chose to speak were teachers.
There were calls for a teacher merit pay system that isn't tied to student performance, and pleas to scale back reliance on standardized testing.
Coeur d'Alene teacher Chris Inlow said that while Idaho children are not required to attend school until age 7, other states require half-day or full-day kindergarten for all children.
"We are starting (at a) deficit in literacy skills from the very beginning," Inlow said.
Bruce Twitchell, another Coeur d'Alene teacher, provided an explanation for the high number of students in need of remediation after high school in Idaho, "Let's face it, our top students are leaving the state."
Twitchell and Coeur d'Alene High School counselor Rick Jones shared concerns about the quality of online courses students are now taking."I'm not opposed to online learning. I think there are many good programs out there, however, I see a growing number of students relying on these courses to get by and get a diploma, and I think it's despicable," Jones said. "The academic standards in some of these programs are very low, and students know it."
There were frequent calls for the Legislature to provide "adequate funding" for education.
Margie Gannon, a 14-year school board member in St. Maries, said voters in her district recently rejected a supplemental maintenance and operations levy for the first time since 1990.
"I understand what the voters are saying," she said. "We have to find a new way to do funding."
Another St. Maries trustee, Sandra Kennelly, said the state's funding formula isn't fair to small, rural districts with smaller tax bases. Even with the successful passage of levies, districts like hers are at a disadvantage, she said, because the tax base is lower. It creates inequity in the quality of education across the state.
Joanna Adams, the Coeur d'Alene mother of several grown children, said all of her kids have college degrees, and those who have moved to Washington and Oregon, are doing well financially.
She has one child who chose to remain in Idaho. That daughter is the highest educated, and is just a few credits away from a doctorate degree.
"She is making the least of all our children because she chose to teach in Idaho," Adams said.
Citizens finished up signing their tax forms on Monday, and sent their taxes due to the state, Adams said.
"That money needs to come back to our area, back to our schools."