One education forum, two prevailing themes

Nampa forum
State Board of Education member Richard Westerberg sets the stage for the first education forum Wednesday night.

On their first night in the field, members of Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force heard two recurring themes: some spirited debate about Common Core, and an appeal for Idaho to put more money into education.

Nineteen people — mostly current and retired teachers — spoke at the first Taskforce for Improving Public Education public forum Wednesday night, held at Nampa High School.

And while the task force is looking for ideas that it can present to the 2014 Legislature, many speakers focused on Common Core, an idea that has already been reviewed and approved by the State Board of Education and the 2011 Legislature. The Idaho Core Standards initiative will establish new math and English language standards in 2013-14, with assessments to begin in 2014-15.

Critics said Common Core is unproven — or a sinister “nationalization” of Idaho education. Some suggested the new standards would force Idaho schools to teach anti-American themes, or allow “data mining” in the classroom.

“It is not too late to stop Common Core,” said Jennifer Reese of Eagle.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna — a champion of Common Core, and one of nine task force members attending Wednesday’s forum — was not surprised by the criticisms. But some of the specifics left him baffled. “I don’t know what math standard could possibly encourage communism,” Luna said after Wednesday’s forum.

The State Department of Education has fielded new questions about the standards since conservative commentator Glenn Beck took on the issue last month, and Luna’s office has gone online to address “myths” about Common Core, including the data mining allegations.

Not everyone criticized Common Core — but said the state and the schools need to do more to get ready for the rollout. Caldwell teacher Travis Manning suggested ramping up community education for parents, so they can help their children meet the standards. Middleton teacher Kim Brocke put in a pitch for professional development. “Whether we’re in favor of Common Core or not, it’s coming, and we need to be prepared.”

For Jenny Easley, a Middleton parent and substitute teacher, Common Core and funding issues are intertwined. Easley said she is “very excited” about the new standards. But she said furlough days, larger class sizes and cuts in training budgets work against teachers. And she accused legislators of embracing a “starve the beast” mentality to schools — underfunding the public school system so they can eventually deem it a failure.

The funding debate is nothing new to New Plymouth Superintendent Ryan Kerby. Education advocates have spent years pointing to Idaho’s low per-pupil spending — and have gotten little traction at the Statehouse. He suggested tying a pitch for funding to measurable results, such as an increase in the number of Idaho high school graduates who go on to college. “We need to have a strategy.”

Wednesday’s forum was the first of seven meetings the task force will hold statewide. The task force’s next meeting is Thursday night in Twin Falls.

Tracking the task force: Follow @idahoednews on Twitter for live tweets from the Twin Falls forum. And check back at Idaho Education News Friday morning for full coverage.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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