Keep Common Core; replicate success stories

Keegan.Petrilli
Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona state schools superintendent, and Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute speak to lawmakers at a panel sponsored by Idaho Business for Education.

Stay the course on Common Core — and assessments.

Recognize, and replicate, outstanding schools.

Lawmakers and education leaders received these two admonishments — and assignments — at a Monday morning meeting sponsored by Idaho Business for Education.

The IBE legislative academy came at the launch of a 2014 session that figures to be defined by education issues, and hours before Gov. Butch Otter will spell out his educational agenda in his annual state of the state address.

Otter, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and key legislators have remained steadfast in support of Idaho Core Standards. But the standards could face scrutiny during the 2014 session, particularly from some conservative lawmakers.

“This is one of those issues that jumped the shark,” Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told lawmakers Monday. The conservative blowback over the math and English language arts standards is somewhat puzzling, he said, since the guidelines themselves should not be a hot-button topic. But the issue has become real, as schools in Idaho and more than 40 other states begin teaching to the standards.

Petrilli, who worked in the George W. Bush administration, criticized President Obama for politicizing Common Core, tying the adoption of the standards to federal Race to the Top grants. This encouraged some states to adopt the standards.

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“As a conservative I wish this had not happened,” Petrilli said. “(But) in the end, this was a fairly limited federal involvement.”

Petrilli urged Idahoans to stick with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessments to test to the Common Core standards. Luna plans to field-test the assessments this spring, but Treasure Valley school superintendents have urged Luna to delay the time-consuming, Web-based assessment.

The SBAC field test may deliver some “sobering news,” Petrilli said, as Idaho students are tested against more rigorous standards. But Petrilli cited Indiana, which is looking at a $30 million cost to switch its assessment model. “It would cost you a lot of money to go it alone at this point.”

With new and more robust accountability measures, American education faces a bright future, said Lisa Graham Keegan, a former Arizona state schools superintendent and education adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain.

Keegan praised Idaho’s five-star school ratings — a yardstick that, in 2015 and beyond, will be tied to SBAC test results. The five-star ratings allow Idahoans to identify schools that perform surprisingly well, despite high poverty rates, and it allows the state to replicate these results elsewhere. “We have penicillin. It has to be distributed now.”

One obstacle, she said, is that some of the highest performing schools are “lamentably low-key,” and have neither the time nor the inclination to talk about themselves.

The IBE Statehouse seminar drew an influential audience, including Luna, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and some of the state’s most prominent legislators, including House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston; Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; and House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordannt, R-Eagle.