Lori Conlon Khan: An Idaho teacher's wish list for educating our students


July 6, 2014 

I read with interest comments and concerns about the "new" Common Core standards. Proponents say they prepare our kids for the 21st century, for competition in the global market, for job skills that are needed in the future. Opponents cry about lack of local control and big government directives, and say that Idaho is falling behind. These are misguided concerns.

Those of us in the trenches are doing what we have always done, taking the mandates given us, usually by policymakers who are not in the day-to-day business of educating kids, and implementing them in our classrooms as best we can. What suggestions might we, the teachers of Idaho, have if asked how to improve education?

1. Personal responsibility should be at the top of the list. Starting with responsible legislators who properly fund the state schools; parents who are involved and send their children to school dressed, fed, rested and ready to learn; students who engage in the learning process and put forth their best effort every day; and yes, teachers in the classroom who engage, encourage and inspire. If each partner holds up his/her end of the educational deal, both teaching and learning will improve.

2. Idaho needs to honor its responsibility to educate each and every child by making a commitment to fund a quality educational system. From preschool to high school graduates enrolling in our state universities and colleges, lawmakers need to honor this responsibility and stop passing it on to the citizen homeowners. Classrooms have far too many students, making it impossible for teachers to meet all the varied needs of each. Advertisements bemoan the dismal rate of graduates who do not "go on," but for many they simply cannot afford the increasing tuition costs, a direct result of higher education funding cuts.

3. Idaho teachers would ask for more time for teaching and less time on testing. Our students are subjected to the IRI, the CBM, the ISAT, SBAC, DWA, IELA, NAEP, EOC, PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP exams.

Colleagues at the university level see that we have created "NCLB (No Child Left Behind) kids," a generation of good test takers who (a) do not like to work collaboratively, (b) have difficulty thinking creatively or critically, and (c) struggle to write well. We, the Idaho teachers, are not afraid of accountability, yet we question the wisdom of spending 20 to 40 hours yearly in grades 3 to 6 and as much as 50 hours in high school (AFT, 2013) administering tests that reveal what we did not have time to teach.

Marzano and Kendall's (1998) meta-analysis of national and state content standards identified 255 standards and 3,968 benchmarks that students are expected to know and do in various subject areas. Even with limited instructional time for each, we need an additional nine years of schooling for students to learn all that is required! Add in lessons on personal health and safety, conflict resolution, manners, lockdown drills, breakfast and snacks in class - all valid things to spend time on -and you get the picture.

Let's be willing to look at more than just the "hot button" issues when it comes to education reform. Let's be willing to consider changing what we have always done, whether that means considering adding weeks to our calendar, truly supporting funding for education versus talking about it, or volunteering in our children's classrooms. Then we shall all be in an educated state.

Lori Conlon Khan, of Boise, is an Idaho educator; member of Alpha Nu State, The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International; and promoter of professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education.

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