- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho’s new Common Core standards drew a crowd Wednesday in the Capitol’s auditorium for debate over the merits of this disputed educational movement.

Backers say the new criteria will boost students’ proficiency by raising expectations, and foes argue the standards are too tough and rely on testing that discriminates against students with special needs.

The event was orchestrated by the Senate and House Education committees. It was also carefully scripted, with advance questions submitted for a panel of six to answer. Lawmakers urged everyone to be civil, given how polarized the issue has become.


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“Please be respectful,” Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene and chairman of the Senate Education Commission.

The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia and being implemented in schools this year, have essentially exchanged state-by-state benchmarks for a uniform guide about what skills a student should have at each grade level. They began formally in 2009 as a project of U.S. governors and state school leaders seeking to improve students’ post-education success.



The idea is to create a system in which educational progress can be measured across states. The goals were based on international standards and tests that show American students lagging behind many of their peers.

Idaho lawmakers approved the standards in 2011, though some now have misgivings and would roll them back, given the chance. That’s unlikely, given support of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and many Republican leaders in the Idaho Legislature.

Among other things, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has said Common Core is an important element of his plan of boosting the number of state residents with a post-secondary degree to 60 percent, from just 35 percent now.

Wednesday’s panel was sharply divided, with Tom Luna joined by Stephanie Rice, an English teacher from Council, and Steve LaBau, an elementary principal from Nampa, to advocate for the new standards.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Zimmerman, a leader of Common Core critic Idahoans for Local Education, was flanked by Common Core foes Bruce Cook, the director for curriculum and staff development in the Madison School District in eastern Idaho, and Dorothy Moon, a former educator from Rupert.

Zimmerman charged that kindergarten students are now being asked to solve complex algebraic equations, something she says is “not developmentally appropriate.”

She also disputed teachers’ involvement in developing the standards, including curriculum and test questions.

“Teachers were not involved in the creation of these standards,” she said, insisting they were brought in “after the fact” once rules were already written. “It was window dressing,” Zimmerman said.

Not true, countered LaBau, contending that teachers were involved throughout the entire process.

“Teachers were involved in the creation of the standards,” LeBau said. “As far as the implementation of the Common Core, teachers are absolutely the essential piece in implementing that. There’s a huge benefit of teachers being involved in the assessments, the design of the instruction, and going back and seeing how the students were informed.”

Common Core heartburn in Idaho isn’t unique. Similar resistance has emerged in several other states across the nation. Though so far, no state that’s adopted the standards has reversed that decision.

Meanwhile, some voiced concerns Wednesday that a multi-national force such as the United Nations - as opposed to American enterprise - is driving the Common Core push.

Others said President Barack Obama’s administration was pulling the strings behind the scenes to get states to adopt tests Idaho residents have no say over.

However, Luna, Idaho’s public schools chief, said that none of this was the case.

“The UN did not play any role” in developing the standards, he said.

Luna added, “I was there from Day 1” and Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, was not in the room when Common Core took shape.

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