Our View: Common Core reform only common sense

June 2, 2013 

Second-graders in Stephanie May's classroom at Roosevelt Elementary last fall will need to develop critical thinking skills in today's economy.


    School may be out, but debate over Idaho education standards will simmer through the summer as teachers and administrators plan to implement Common Core / Idaho Core Standards into their 2013-14 school year plans.

    - The Idaho Statesman will host an online chat on the Common Core topic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday at IdahoStatesman.com. Four different chat guests will comment on Common Core and field your questions:

    11–11:30 a.m.: Tom Luna, Idaho superintendent of public instruction.

    11:30–noon: Rod Gramer, president, Idaho Business for Education.

    Noon–12:30 p.m.: Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation.

    12:30–1 p.m.: Lindsey Yundt, teacher, Boise School District.

Have you ever noticed that education reform initiatives are unrated by actuaries and untouched as sure bets in Las Vegas? They exist in bubble dimensions until they pop on the sharp edges of the classroom and life.

We won't revisit Outcome-Based-Education (1993) or No Child Left Behind (2003) except in the context that roughly a decade later we are faced with another sweeping education reform called Common Core State Standards. The version in our state has come to be known as Idaho Core Standards.

Like its predecessors, Common Core - which espouses stiff standards for math and English language arts - is so seemingly nonpartisan, one can find elected officials from both aisles to tout or torch it. We empathize with parents who, ironically, don't know what standard to measure Common Core by because there is such a thick cloud of both reasoned and conspiratorial rhetoric surrounding it.

So here is our standard for deciding to support Common Core/Idaho Core Standards: It promotes engaging students to exercise critical thinking with their accumulated knowledge. In today's world it is not enough to know math and operate a calculator. Students must continue to develop basic math skills, but at the same time be challenged to apply skills to "make change" in a retail setting or "make a financial forecast" in a business setting.

Let us continue to read "To Kill a Mockingbird," but let us also understand the historical context and social issues of its time.

Our teachers know that reaching the finish line of No Child Left Behind won't cut it in this diverse and global economy. Educators need to develop their own critical thinking skills to challenge those who struggle and those who excel. Yesterday's finish lines must become tomorrow's launchpads.

Are the core standards "one-size-fits-all"? We hope so, because that's the point. Medical and law boards, and certification tests, all demand a standard - but states can and should customize above and beyond that standard. Idaho, for instance, will continue to teach cursive - not just as a form of writing, but as a viable skill necessary when it comes to reading historical documents.

The best way we know to ensure the success of Idaho Core Standards - which already are being used in some schools and which will be implemented throughout Idaho beginning in the fall - is for parents and students to sharpen those critical thinking skills. Research it. Ask questions. Make suggestions. It is not curriculum, but a standard.

Life, like tennis, isn't nearly as rewarding without a net.

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