Idaho parents deserve to know the truth about the quality of the state's government-run education system, not Sherri Ybarra’s rose-colored version of it.
On Wednesday, Ybarra’s Department of Education put out a misleading news release touting Idaho’s “academic success” as measured by the national publication “Education Week.”
Ybarra went as far as to claim that scores are “on the rise” and bragged that the state had gone from getting a D+ in a previous analysis to a C. She said the news was encouraging because in 2016, the state ranked 31st nationally and now ranks 17th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
“That’s great,” Ybarra is quoted as saying. She used the word “great” twice in her press release and also called the results “gratifying.” And of course, some folks in the legacy news media reported, almost verbatim, the story Ybarra had to tell, inaccuracies, superlatives, and all.
The news release points out that the results are based on Idaho’s 4th and 8th grade 2019 math and reading assessments and Nation’s Report Card performance since 2003, so it’s easy to check the truthfulness of her statements.
Idaho Freedom Foundation education policy director Anna Miller did that, and noted that what Ybarra claims is “academic success” is actually the opposite. For example, 8th grade reading scores have dropped by four points. Eighth grade math scores are flat, and still below where they were years ago. The same is also true of 4th grade math and reading scores. Student test scores have continuously come in as below proficient on standardized tests, and they still are.
Miller also noted that Idaho ranks incredibly low in three out of the five categories in Education Week’s report. That’s not something that one would expect the leader of the state’s public education system to trumpet as a success story. Because it’s not. Ybarra also used her phony figures to push for more government-run education, claiming we’d rank even higher among states if only we had a statewide pre-kindergarten program. Once again, that’s obviously false.
This is not the first time Ybarra has decided to sugarcoat the failings of the education system that she oversees, as we’ve noted before. Ybarra has been trying to construct and defend a narrative that Idaho’s government-run schools are getting better and better. In reality, far too many kids are graduating from schools unable to read, write, and do math with great proficiency. It’s common for students to go to college and have to take remedial classes.
I wish that weren’t the case because Lord knows that Idaho has some awesome public school teachers who are working really hard in their individual classes to get kids the optimum education they can deliver. Just as parents and students deserve better, so do Idaho’s public school teachers. But they’re being weighed down by government-endorsed education fads like Common Core, and an irrational force on social emotional learning and critical race theory.
Ybarra continues to defend Common Core, even though its failings over the course of a decade are more than obvious. She’s become the state’s leading booster of social emotional learning, and she denies the existence of critical race theory, even though there’s plenty of evidence that it’s endemic in Idaho’s schools.
No one should expect that Ybarra will suddenly decide to be honest about underperformance in the public school system. No one should expect anyone to be fired for it. That’s why it’s important as it has ever been for students to be freed from a failing education system, led by a superintendent of public instruction who is willing to go as far as to lie about it.