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Education task force reconvenes in Boise to revisit, tweak earlier recommendations

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BOISE, Idaho — Members of the Governor's Task Force for Improving Education met again Monday to come up with new proposals to present to Idaho lawmakers next year.

Among the concepts discussed was a proposed switch to mastery-based education that would let students advance based on when they fully grasp a concept, rather than the time they spend in a classroom.

That recommendation went nowhere during the recently ended session of the Legislature, and task force members said Monday they haven't settled how to measure "mastery," or even who will make that decision. Some urged local control, while others argued if Idaho is providing funding to these schools, the state should be entitled to set forth some expectations.

Another topic was the balancing act required to implement two more recommendations: A call for schools to have more autonomy in the way they teach and a restructuring of the state's accountability setup.

Proponents hope more autonomy on local levels will give teachers room for creativity and innovation — possibly sparking a better way to reach students. But that idea is somewhat at odds with a bid to place responsibility on schools for students' performance.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter created the task force last year, asking members to come up with recommendations to improve the state education system.

They created a list of 20 items for the Idaho Legislature to consider. Progress was made on some recommendations, but none was fully implemented.

Seven of the 20 recommendations went completely untouched by lawmakers this year.

"We've still got some work to do, obviously," said Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene.

Task force members gathered at Boise State to get started on that work, breaking into two committees to work on developing proposals and implementation plans on teacher career ladders and other items.

Another working group will address reading proficiency and literacy — something the task force says students should have before moving on to significant content learning.

Task force Chair Richard Westerberg said he was pleased with what this year's Legislature accomplished.

"I don't know of a legislature that's made as much progress on education as this one," he said.

That progress includes an education budget of $1.37 billion. At nearly 5 percent more than last year's funding, it's well beyond the 2.9 percent jump the task force asked for.

Lawmakers also signed off on a 1 percent permanent raise for teachers and administrators, as well as funding for classroom technology.

With the 2014 Legislature in the rearview mirror and lawmakers mostly scattered back to their home districts, the group is gearing up to tackle next year's proposals.

"We're going to have some really tough decisions to make," said Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle and head of the House Education Committee.

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