American public education seems to be riding a see-saw of political experimentation, rocking from one administration to the next in the name of "reform."

Now, there's nothing wrong with experimentation. In fact, education needs to evolve as fast if not faster than our always-changing society. But as it evolves, it also needs to improve.

The question on the table is exactly that - is the latest incarnation of national education reform better than what came before it? If not, will it be another No Child Left Behind that will be picked away as aspect after aspect becomes unworkable? Or will it be another Students Come First that will end up a political pile of ashes in a ballot bonfire?

We believe that Common Core Standards - or the Idaho Core Standards, as this state's version is branded - take the right approach to education reform and they should be given a chance.

Common Core Standards is not a curriculum; it's an approach to learning. And, more importantly, it's not a set of rigid regulations that will overburden rural schools the way No Child Left Behind has done.

Instead, at least in its theory, Idaho Core Standards uses a common sense, real-world approach to education. It teaches communication and problem solving. Its tests measure how a student arrived at the answer as much as it measures that those answers are right.

In other words, it teaches children to think, not just to memorize.

Remember sitting in math class and wondering, "When will I ever use this?" Remember how you had that one teacher who actually answered that question for you and the lightbulb went on?

Starting this fall, teachers will uniformly teach that way - offering real-life applications for the math they teach. It will also require a more integrated approach to subjects, including more reading and writing in math classes.

Idaho adopted the Common Core Standards for English and Math in 2011, and the standards were revised into the Idaho Core Standards.

Now, it's time for those standards to see the classroom. They will be implemented for the first time this fall. Teachers are being trained and are busy rewriting lesson plans and shifting their approach to meet these new standards.

Common Core Standards is a voluntary opt-in program. Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia opted not to adopt the national standards. And states are free to opt-out at any time - though an argument has been made that the government is using federal funds as a carrot for states that opt-in.

The concern by many is that this is the kind of top-down, federal government control of our local schools that we never wanted here in Idaho. But the truth is, what we're doing isn't working.

A study reports that 67 percent of Idaho children are "below proficient" in reading at grade level. When Education Week published its annual Quality Counts report this January, Idaho education was ranked 49th in the nation above Nevada and South Dakota (results included D.C. to bring the number measured to 51).

And talk to any administrator at College of Southern Idaho and they'll tell you that the school spends a growing number of resources on remedial education, just getting its freshmen up to a college level so they can start taking credited courses.

We can demand local control, but we must also be aware that our children - especially here in Idaho - will work in an increasingly global marketplace. They will compete for jobs against students in China and India. We need to do what we can to make sure they are ready.

That doesn't mean we should embrace Idaho Core Standards with open arms and closed eyes.

By all accounts, these standards are more rigorous. But what does that mean in the classroom? Will we see the brightest students get left behind as more effort goes to struggling students who need help meeting the standards? Or will it go the other way - widening the gap between the achievers and those in remedial classes?

It's hard to know until the standards are implemented. It's a risk, but one that worth taking.

With all that said, it's important to remember, there's no substitute for a talented, caring teacher in the classroom. We need to hire and work to retain good teachers. Those teachers are the future of education in this country - not education reform coming down from Boise or Washington, no matter how well-researched or how good the intention.

(4) comments


What if your child attends a school that IS doing it right? Why does a school that turns out highly performing students have to change anything about what they are doing? There is little data to suggest that the Idaho Core Standards will produce better outcomes. The new testing instruments that will be used on our children next spring have not been validated nor have they been correlated to better long term outcomes for our students. Does anyone remember "New Math" or trying to learn to read using "whole word recognition"? I am concerned that Idaho jumped on the bandwagon, panic-stricken that we might lose federal dollars, without considering the consequences. The federal government will now have access to data about our kids -- extensive data -- and parents may not opt out. Let Idaho figure out our own standards and tell the federal government to mind its own business. We have the potential to outshine all other states if we aren't coerced into a system that forces mediocrity on the masses. The real losers here are the best and brightest in our state. It may be too late at this point for our state to opt out of this system but I would highly encourage everyone to do their own research and see the extent to which ICS are going to dumb down our schools.


Oh Please! The Common Core's claims are false and these high stakes tests are going to ruin education. Mark my words. And sorry to disappoint, but there are many parents and teachers all over the nation who are against these reforms. I'm glad I don't have kids in the educational system of this state. And for those of you who do, please do your research about the common core and high stakes testing.

Is something seriously wrong with American schools and that schools need to be fixed? We are always working to improve teaching, always! But there is no crisis in teaching. The real crisis is poverty, but that never gets addressed.

When researchers control for poverty, our test scores are among the best in world. Our unspectacular overall scores are due to the fact that the US has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries (now over 23%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5.4%). Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively impact school performance.
Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves children's educational outcomes, not vice-versa, supporting Martin Luther King’s position: "We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished”(Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).
There is no evidence that standards and increased testing have improved student learning in the past.
If schooling was so horrible, how did the Times News staff turn out to be very functional, literate adults. And for that matter, many adults in our community fall into the category as literate adults with fine jobs. Did they have common core? Our high schools do a fantastic job of graduating hundreds of kids every year, some will go to college and some will not. Not all of the students are college material. Some are trade school material. Some are darn good service industry material. Some military. Some entrepreneurial. Heck, some we are just trying to make useful to themselves. We are not alchemists. Everything is not gold; however everything does have a value. This new every child is going to college idea is as damaged as any other attempt to declare one size fits all on our students. Enhance a child's natural talents. Don’t shoe-horn him/her into a political agenda.

Oh, and teachers! Student's test scores will be used to evaluate you! Forget about other factors that also contribute to student achievement, factors such as “class sizes” “instructional time” “home and community supports or challenges” “individual student needs and abilities, health and attendance” “specific tests used” etc. These aren’t excuses for the teachers. These are very good reasons why some students aren’t doing as well as others or better than others. Happens often at a school near you.

I'm sure Idaho thanks the Federal Government and Bill Gates for the grant money to spend on the common core and the training of teachers. Just imagine if he had divided that money among every school district in the nation, with the provisions that there be no funding for salaries or sports or new buildings. Imagine if every school district were able to choose what they believed would improve their schools. Imagine if each district made the choices that were best for their students. I'm telling you folks, do your research!


Charter schools, school vouchers and privatization. Get the stupid government out of education! For anybody that thinks Idaho is doing a great job with education, you better darn well stay in Idaho, because you wont be able to compete anywhere else. Idaho kids are getting shafted now!
I don't know about common core, but the current system is a disgrace to everybody but those making money off it. The biggest problem with this country is the public school system and the liberals and communists that run it!


There are a couple of key principles or concepts here:
1) The federal and state governments have a stake in the quality of education being provided to your children.

2) There are basic building blocks at every level that are required before advancement to the next level.

As a person who works with international non-profit groups to get doctors, nurses, EMTs and paramedics to disaster area as fast as possible, they want to know that the person working next to them has a certain basic level of training, knowledge and skills…whether they are from Idaho, Georgia or Eritrea.

As an employer who has enough work to hire 3-6 new people in the coming years, I know that I will not find the skilled workers in the valley or in Idaho. I am better off subcontracting to freelancers and companies in California, New York, India or Switzerland than i am to spend 6 months training someone who has no knowledge or experience with the simple technologies that I require.

The fight shouldn't be about the need for and the validity of setting Core Standards, but about the 10-12 basic building blocks to be mastered at each level of every grade and every class to be allowed on to the next level.

Additionally, I firmly Do NOT believe that taxpayers on a local or state level care at all about the quality of education in their schools. Parents and teachers care, but the general public is not concerned as long as they have a winning football, basketball or baseball team. All you have to do is check out the percentage of people who actually vote on a school issue and who is the highest paid state employee in each state.

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