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Raising the Grade 

Publisher's Note

"Don't fail, Idaho." That's the tough-love message that's been beamed across the Gem State by the Albertson Foundation. Kind of like our own cover headline this week, it aims to grab you and force you to pay attention. Yes, Idaho and Washington have a big problem — both states are seeing fewer than half their high school graduates moving on to higher education. As a result, we're not producing enough qualified workers for the fields that are fueling the 21st century economy.

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Despite the campaign, the situation is not improving. As documented in our cover story, young people have a lot of reasons for not "going on." In Boise, legislators haven't made funding enough of a priority, and the new state superintendent of public instruction, Sherri Ybarra, simply refuses to share her views on the subject.

But on the front lines, like at Sandpoint High School, dedicated, creative teachers are starting to make headway. They hold fill-out-your-college-application parties, and counselors underline job-training opportunities beyond the traditional four-year options. One student is aiming for a physical therapy degree as a way to fund his true passion for building guitars; another is looking into Avista's lineworker program with a possible $50,000-a-year salary.

The "Don't Fail, Idaho" campaign has identified lots of elements to a plan for success, but confusion remains. Right at the time we need to engage individual students and focus on their strengths and passions, we seem to want to make them more the same via testing. I am all for standards, but too much testing can overwhelm the mission.

It's also a plain fact that college has become too expensive. Starting out in life with a millstone of debt is scaring students away. Finding how to publicly pay for two years of community college is a step in the right direction.

So when you hear that slogan, think of old Joe Albertson, who founded Albertsons in 1939; today, more than 250,000 employees work under the Albertsons corporate umbrella. It's a homegrown success — the kind Idaho and Washington both need more of.

Albertson was an innovator and tireless worker, but his story started with two years at the College of Idaho in Caldwell — studying business, gaining the confidence to strike out on his own and meeting his wife, Kathryn. The Albertsons thought so much of those two years that they gave away millions to further the goals of public education. I don't agree with every initiative their foundation funds, but the spirit is right on. We all need a little kick in the pants to care enough to take on the challenge. ♦

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