Gov. Butch Otter sought to calm concerns Thursday about changes in education that could come from his task force for improving public schools and he lined up solidly behind Common Core, a key element in his plan to revamp education.
As part of a live, two-hour chat on the Idaho Statesman's website, Otter and members of his task force took questions from the public. Panelists were Linda Clark, Meridian School District superintendent; Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, House Education Committee chairman; and Boise parent Mike Lanza.
We present some of the questions and responses - edited for clarity and space - below.
Q: Recent history shows that Idahoans are reluctant to make changes in education. What one thing can you say that will combat the fears of Idahoans reluctant to change?
Otter: I have tried to emphasize collaboration and process in tackling education reform. The recommendation by the task force doesn't change that expectation. Legislators, Superintendent (Tom) Luna, the State Board, the stakeholder groups, business leaders, all of those convicted to engage in this debate need to continue to be involved.
Q: I am concerned that lawmakers and private corporations feel they know better how to educate our children than the parents. (Common Core) was designed behind closed doors. Parents are being told how it's going to be, yet they are our children.
Otter: The state of Idaho is a strong supporter of homeschools and alternate education. ... The notion that Common Core was cooked up behind closed doors is wrong.
Q: If you are in support of parental involvement, why did you not include parents on your task force?
Otter: I believe most of the members of the task force were parents or grandparents.
Q: Do you feel that the school districts are allocating their funds appropriately?
Clark: My answer is a resounding "yes." I believe there is a high degree of accountability in how districts spend their funds. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of district funds go to salary and benefits, the most important aspect of education. As the resources have been reduced, districts have taken a hard look at every expenditure.
Q: If there is any "crisis" in public education, it is in the under-funding alone of Idaho education and not in the quality of the delivery of public education.
DeMordaunt: There is no correlation between the amount of money spent on education and student academic growth. It is like trying to determine how good a golfer you are based on how much you paid for your green fee. Rather, we should be focused on the outcomes of our education system, namely student growth and achievement. Additional funding may be required and by focusing on the student outcomes it will provide us the direction we need to invest those funds.
Q: Isn't it true that the benefits of preschool are gone by the third grade anyway? Why does the government need to take care of everything?
Lanza: One of the biggest challenges in improving student outcomes in the higher grades is making sure they are achieving at grade level - especially reading at grade level - by the third grade. The data show that students who reach that level can compete with their peers more successfully. Study after study shows that government investment in pre-K delivers results, which is why the vast majority of states have pre-K programs.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts