Guest Opinion: Russ Fulcher on Idaho's Common Core Standards


March 22, 2014 

Imagine if every grocery store, hardware store, or car dealership marketed and sold the same products the same way at the same price all the time. How much incentive would there be for entrepreneurs to lead, excel, or offer superior products and services? None.

This is what concerns me about Common Core education standards and the assessment that comes with it, the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Like the failed predecessor programs before it, Common Core sets every public school on a path toward mediocrity. Rather than encouraging innovation, leveraging the talents of our teachers and parents, and finding the best ways to propel students forward, Common Core seeks to make all students, their schools, and their education experience generic. Dull. Uninspired.

Interestingly, supporters of Common Core are often the same people who claim that students shouldn't be treated like widgets in factory - a sentiment that I share. However that's what Common Core does. If Common Core works as advertised, schools in Idaho and the education achievement in those schools will end up the same as in Mississippi, New York, Missouri, or any other state.

Don't we want our schools to be better than the schools in other states? Shouldn't we try to continually raise the ceiling on performance? Idaho should be striving to be the best, not the same. Higher expectations and more rigorous standards are needed, but they will only be achieved through a system that empowers teachers and students with the flexibility to engage their individual aspirations and goals.

In 2011, supporters of Common Core sold it to legislators as a way to increase Idaho's education standards and bolster local control; that is why I voted for a rule enabling the standards three years ago. But as time has passed and we have learned more, I've come to realize that under Common Core, there is no "next step" to improvement. The intent is for Idaho students to be "equal" with everyone else, to be average, ordinary. That's not enough. Idaho students, teachers, and parents can and should do better!

Then, there is the data collection issue. Parents are rightly concerned that Common Core calls for rigorous collection of student data with submission requirements to the federal government.

Finally, I'm concerned about the SBAC test. Most, if not all, of the content is developed out of state. It takes seven or eight hours to administer, is subjective in nature, and the results may not be available for weeks. This means that students will likely be deprived of the ability to know what they've answered right or wrong in a timely fashion. And teachers tell me they are concerned about forfeiting a full day of teaching just to administer this test. So am I. The testing component seems to be a step backward - not forward - in the education of schoolchildren.

It's troubling that the federal government appears to be using programs such as Common Core as a lever to strip local control from schools, teachers and families. What Idaho needs is an education system that is innovative and inspiring. Our children deserve a system that stands apart and outpaces anything else that's offered anywhere in the world. Our children deserve an education system that is accountable and responsive to the needs of students, where resources are focused like a laser on student achievement. This can best be done by empowering our teachers and parents with choices in schools, curriculum, and teaching methodology; a system that frees them to teach - not make them cogs in a machine driven from Washington, D.C.

Fulcher lives in Meridian.

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