Victoria M. Young: Common Core is not what Idaho schools need

GUEST OPINION PUBLIC EDUCATION

February 8, 2014 

Beyond Ada County and the great schools of Boise lies a vast array of educational terrain. Quality and opportunity varies.

As a parent of 28 years who experienced and viewed multiple problems with education in Canyon County classrooms and stomached years of a self-inflicted search for answers, my opinion should matter as much as Al Stout’s, which was featured in the Statesman on Monday, Feb. 3. He asked, Why would anyone be against Common Core?

First, here is what I stand in favor of as sensible, reasonable and logical. Horses should be put in front of the cart, especially when trying to pull a load uphill.

There are five elements that make schools effective:

1) The principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction.

2) A pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus.

3) An orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning.

4) Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery.

5) The use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.

These are 1982 findings by Ronald R. Edmonds. He looked at low-performing schools that had, as we would say today, become “turnaround” schools. They were high-poverty and high-minority, and had become high-achieving and narrowed their achievement gap! They became “effective.”

Edmonds noted that they became effective by seeing the local school as the focus of analysis and intervention; assuming all children to be educable; and focusing their design on more efficient use of existing resources.

All these elements of quality education depend on the quality of the humans working in the schools and their actions. Education depends on the quality of education and training for all involved.

Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force on Improving Education offered No. 18 among its 20 recommendations: training and development of administrators, superintendents and school boards deserves scrutiny. If “training” is indoctrination into the political ruse of standards and testing as the answer to our problems, it must be stopped. It is wrong. It is the same faulty assumption that made No Child Left Behind such a dismal failure for low-performing schools.

Edmonds noted that “the standards” had varied widely among the schools studied — not common to their success. It never was standards themselves that improved schools. He — as well as myself and everyone else I know who stands against Common Core — favored having a more uniform set of “standards.” But we certainly don’t need “the” Core standards to improve our Idaho standards.

A better, more cost-effective solution to our “Core problem” for all schools in the state is to keep what we like about the Core. The official gap analysis, done for us, and input from all stakeholders should guide that state-led process.

In the meantime, lawmakers can address the funding and human resource gaps in this state. The report they ordered, Workforce Issues Affecting Public School Teachers, suggested the priority should be to “use the report as a starting point to inform efforts to reform public education in Idaho.” It’s a big step forward in hitching the horse to the front end of the cart. Pulling up the schools that have been holding the state down should take priority.

Those who can’t understand how their view is limited can’t see through the rhetoric that has them wrapped in sheep’s clothing. They can’t see how they are being used as pawns in the wolves’ political game.

The inability to understand someone else’s circumstances is what keeps us from doing the right thing. We don’t need Common Core; it’s not what’s best for all.

“One size fits all” — doesn’t. It is irresponsible to think otherwise. It’s time we do what is best.

Victoria M. Young is a Caldwell veterinarian, parent of two Idaho college graduates and author of “The Crucial Voice of the People: Education's Missing Ingredient,” 2nd edition.

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