Why is Idaho at Risk?

Enclosed you will find a new report titled “Idaho at Risk,” which is being released by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. This research report regarding educational attainment is grounded in our commitment to making Idaho a state where our citizens can learn, thrive, and prosper. We know that data is often viewed as imperfect, however; we believe there are key indicators that are worth sharing in pursuit of meaningful improvements for Idahoans, especially students and their educational experience.

This report shares some realities about Idaho’s current and future landscape of educational attainment and economic mobility. We are hopeful that this data will encourage candid and necessary conversations regarding what citizens want for the future of Idaho. If there is to be meaningful progress toward tackling complex issues facing Idaho, one thing we know for sure, now is the time for leadership and accountability.

Over the last four years through some of our initiative work, we have had one-on-one conversations with more than 14,000 high school students state-wide. We’ve learned a lot about trends in teens’ thinking and their overall school experiences. Some disturbing themes have arisen out of this work. There is a growing sense of hopelessness and fear as they think about their futures, and there is an overwhelming lack of engagement in daily school life. Gallup, the largest public polling agency in the world, has identified that hope and engagement are a better predictor of post-secondary success than standardized test scores. Again, while imperfect, the indicators in this report support the reality that the current antiquated education system is coming up short when it comes to preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges and many of our students are disenfranchised.

The ability to identify a starting point for improvement can be argued and often leads to not starting anything at all. Despite the good intentions of leaders, educational professionals, and communities, Idaho still lags behind the country in most educational and economic indicators. As a follow-on to this report, we will publish an annual report card that shows progress on key educational indicators. This may be criticized as an inaccurate reflection of individual schools, as a tool to assign blame, and may be accused of having a hidden agenda. The reality is that it should be used as one important measurement as to whether those collectively responsible for the education of our youth and the oversight of $1.8 billion in taxpayer dollars are making necessary gains.

Without leadership and accountability, Idaho will continue muddling along a path of mediocrity and it will be our generation of youth that suffers the most.

We are hopeful that new leadership will convey a bold vision to making our Idaho educational system the best in the country: a clear strategy behind this commitment and the accountability of multiple stakeholders in meeting expected outcomes. This is far more ambitious and comprehensive than priority statements, task force recommendations, or surface initiatives where results are largely the same. In this regard, this report shares six considerations aligned with research-based best practices.

We are confident that Idahoans have perseverance and grit. As fiercely independent citizens, we believe in hard work and can-do attitudes. It’s time we ask our leaders for that same commitment. Identifying priorities is one thing; developing a plan and a path forward and being held accountable to the results of that plan will be something new. Anything short will continue to leave Idaho at risk.


Roger Quarles, Executive Director

J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation