Idahoans raise objections to Common Core standards

The new education standards draw suspicion among those who say they don’t measure up to students’ needs.

broberts@idahostatesman.comJuly 28, 2013 

Audience members such as Ronalee Linsenmann asked questions during the forum in which one speaker warned that home-schoolers could be drawn into Common Core if national college-entrance exams are aligned with the standards.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

  • WHAT IS COMMON CORE?

    Common Core is a mutually agreed upon set of standards for what students should learn in public school. It is being adopted in 45 states. Core standards emphasize critical thinking and delving deeply into subject areas. Some states, such as Indiana and Michigan, have backtracked on standards after residents complained, but no state has yet dropped the standards.

Critics of Common Core, hoping Idaho lawmakers will rethink the state education standards they passed in 2011, may be picking up a bit of steam after a four-hour critique Saturday of the goals headed for classrooms this fall.

An audience of 200 at a conference at the Boise Centre applauded as national speakers bashed the standards as weak, not developed by Idahoans for Idaho students and a technique that will gobble up instruction time with testing.

“Let’s just stop it,” one man yelled from the audience.

“Are they rigorous?” asked Sandra Stotsky, a former Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary official who oversaw standards development in her state. “Rigor mortis would be more like it.”

When the Idaho Legislature adopted Common Core standards, “I don't think any of us really knew what was in them,” State Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, told the Idaho Statesman. “(With) the public outcry we are hearing now, I think we need to revisit and look at them.”

Denney, who was speaker of the Idaho House in 2011, was one of a half-dozen lawmakers who attended the Saturday conference.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, a former Boise School District teacher, also has concerns about the way the state approved and presented the standards.

She says there was not enough public discussion when the standards were adopted two years ago. “We need to make sure we have Idaho’s best interests at heart,” she said. “If that means getting people together and addressing concerns, then we should do it.”

But even as lawmakers consider taking a closer look at the standards, as states such as Indiana have done, an effort is underway in Idaho to make sure the standards stay in public classrooms.

A group of 18 organizations, including Micron, education associations and business groups, announced formation of a coalition last week to support the standards they say will improve the workplace and Idaho’s economy.

Stotsky said that the standards set expectations for reading in high school at a sixth- or seventh-grade level and that English standards put more emphasis on writing than reading

Officials at the Idaho Department of Education, which strongly backs Idaho’s version of the Common Core known as Idaho Core Standards, disagree with the characterizations of the standards.

Reading skills are not dumbed-down, said Melissa McGrath, department spokeswoman. Testing in Idaho under Common Core will use the same six-week testing window it uses for the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, she said. Schools typically use four of the six weeks permitted.

But the anti-Common Core message resonated with Treasure Valley residents who attended Saturday’s event, especially concerns that the standards were put in place before many Idahoans knew much about them.

Department officials say they held 20 public meetings across the state in 2010 before standards were adopted.

Sue Holladay, a Meridian grandmother whose says her two grandchildren are in private school partly because of the Common Core, disagrees with the approach to math, which encourages students to investigate and find their own routes to answers to math problems.

“Why do you need 20 ways?” she asked. “You begin with simple concepts and move forward. You’ve got to have that to understand higher math.”

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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