BOISE -- The governor-appointed Task Force on Improving Education met for the first time Friday. They're looking at ways to reform education in Idaho, after the Students Come First Laws failed a vote of the people in November.
"That's really the short and long of what we're doing here, is just how to improve the experience for our children and get better results," said Richard Westerberg, State Board of Education member and the Task Force Chairman.
A lot of goals, ideas, themes, and policies to reform Idaho's education system were discussed. Technology, fiscal stability, teacher retention, professional development of teachers, teacher effectiveness, and local control were all on the table.
The group could be looking at recommending changing the whole model of education in Idaho. But Westerberg says the group will also be practical. "The thing we really need to be careful of, is that we work on stuff where we can get to the finish line."
The last big education reform in Idaho, backed by the state superintendent, the governor, and many lawmakers, was repealed in the 2012 election. Some complained not enough stakeholders were involved in crafting the laws. So, this task force includes teachers, district officials, union leaders, State Board of Education members, advocacy groups for business and education, and also lawmakers.
"We want to include everybody in that discussion and give voice to all constituents," said Westerberg.
Mike Lanza (co-founder of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, the group that organized the opposition to the Students Come First laws) is also a task force member. He advocates including even more people in the group's decision making. "I also believe that we need to go out to the public in Idaho. We need to do everything possible to get public input and buy-in on whatever we come up with."
Both chairs of the Legislature's Education Committees are on the task force. Sen. John Goedde believes in the legislative process to create good reform. But he says this group, formed by the executive branch, can compliment lawmakers' work.
"We've plowed an awful lot of ground that's already been plowed," said Goedde. "But I think we have some opportunities to look at new fields."
Lanza said, "I really hope that this group is going to change the course of education in Idaho."
It was a five-and-a-half hour meeting Friday, with a lot of good ideas on the table. They'll try to focus and prioritize all those ideas for their next meeting on Jan. 25.
How soon might the task force be looking to recommend changes? The chairman says they won't make any major reform recommendations to the governor until 2014. But they might suggest smaller changes during this year's legislative session.