Pocatello talk devoted to teachers, standards

An energetic crowd of 101 used Tuesday’s task force meeting in Pocatello as a chance to vent, show support for teachers and air concerns about the Common Core State Standards.

Twenty-seven people, about one-fourth of the audience, took their turn at the podium during the sixth in a series of listening session held around the state.

Pocatello Task Force
Task force Chairman Richard Westerberg presents stats during the opening moments of Tuesday’s Pocatello meeting.

Eight eastern Idaho teachers were among those who testified, and many more residents showed up to call on the state to show more support for educators.

Liana Litzsinger, who teaches at New Horizon alternative high school, was one of several who called on the task force to preserve flexibility in schools. She said that many of her students have nontraditional home lives, have been in trouble or don’t get the attention they need from parents. She also stressed that college may not be right or realistic for all students, but that they deserve an education that will prepare them for success as well.

“Please understand not all students are destined to go to college,” Litzsinger said. “We need to help them prepare for a career, not necessarily a four-year education. Allow us the flexibility to teach them what they need in order to be successful.”

Larry Gebhardt, and adjunct faculty member at Idaho State University, called on task force members to foster a renewed culture of learning. He also said teachers have not been shown the respect they deserve.

“The overall tone of legislation in education policy indicates a great disrespect toward teachers and teachers in Idaho on K-12,” Gebhardt said.  “There is no epidemic of bad teachers and bad faculty. Students are getting the best result from the limited resources available.”

By the numbers, who attended:

101 people.

Two task force members, Chairman Richard Westerberg and Teresa Jackman.

Three legislators, Rep. Julie VanOrden and Sens. Jim Guthrie and Roy Lacey.

Pocatello/Chubbuck School District Superintendent Mary Vagner.

Current and former teachers, home school educators, business executives, parents and taxpayers.

As with other task force meetings, the Common Core state standards in language arts and math that will be taught next year were a major talking point. Testimony ran 11-3 against the new standards.

Many people said parents will have little input in the curriculum their children are taught, while others decried the associated assessment tests and said officials should stop comparing Idaho pupils to children elsewhere.

Jonathan Jensen, a Pocatello engineer, compared the Common Core standards to the latest diet fad.

Jensen suggested state officials should instead look to Idaho charter schools or other institutions that have delivered positive results in the Gem State.

“Why in the world are we not implementing the curriculum of the charter schools instead of some national program,” Jensen said. “Common Core seems to be to be the latest fad.”

Byron Haws, a 34-year veteran teacher in Pocatello, said after reading the Common Core standards that they focus too much on the left side of students’ brains and ignore other functions.

“People have left and right hemispheres of their brains and we need to focus on both sides,” Haws said. “Creativity comes in using both sides of the brain.”

Despite the oppositions, some educators spoke in favor of Common Core, just as a minority did in Idaho Falls the previous night. Pocatello High School teacher Kay Jenkins said the new standards allow him to motivate all students ­– from high achievers to those who struggle.

Jenkins also put out a challenge to residents who said they have not been able to find any material explaining what the new curriculum will look like. Jenkins said he would gladly show and review the standards with anyone willing to attend back-to-school nights, but added he has been disappointed by parents’ attendance there.

“Now we are going to go deeper (with our study) and (this is) a process which will allow them to succeed,” Jenkins said. “That is where teachers are headed, and I didn’t fight it because I think it’s a good thing.”

The task force next meets at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Lincoln Auditorium inside the basement of the Statehouse.