As a veteran public school teacher of 18 years, and as a mom of a 10-year-old who attends my local public school, I find myself telling kids to stand up for what is right. To say something if they see injustice. Sometimes it is easy to tell others what they should do, yet harder to do yourself.
With that in mind, I feel compelled to respond to the guest opinion written by Wayne Hoffman for Idaho Education News, which states that the recent public hearings on the Idaho Content Standards “prove” that everyone is “not entirely supportive” of the standards. Yet when educators ask the naysayers which of the standards they don’t want their kids to learn in order to be college and career ready, they can’t pick out a single one.
The other day, an internet quote (of all things) found me just when I needed it. It is by Brazilian lyricist Paulo Coelho, and he writes, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” A public school teacher’s life is generally spent being that example. I wake up each morning early to run our school’s cross country program, teach a combination first and second grade class, mentor a full time student teacher from a local university, take classes toward my doctorate from another local university, serve my local teacher’s union as the vice-president, collaborate with our district administration and attend every school board meeting I can. I am a great mom and read half an hour to my kid every night…no exceptions.
I feel that I am more than qualified to hold an opinion about the Idaho Content Standards (the foundations of which come from the Common Core State Standards). When I heard that there was an Idaho State Board of Education hearing in August to discuss these standards, I knew that there would likely be many people in attendance with big opinions. From my experience in education, I also knew that these opinions were often developed over time based on hearsay, riddled with inaccuracies, and created by people who likely had not spent much time in a classroom.
When I attended the hearing, I hoped to speak from my experience as a teacher in three different states, with familiarity in teaching three different sets of standards. I used to teach on a military base in Alaska, where students came from all over the nation. My students were all first graders, but the standards they had been exposed to varied widely from state to state. It was incredibly challenging to ensure that all students at our K-5 school were learning the important skills they needed before they moved to another state, with its whole new set of standards.
I was not coerced by my union to participate in this hearing. I proudly went to support my profession and what we do for students every day. I wore red, which is the color teachers across the nation have adopted to show their support for public education…”Red for Ed.” Mr. Hoffman’s article noted that teachers were outnumbered at the Coeur d’Alene hearing. It is fair to point out that many educators were hard at work after hours, busy putting the finishing touches on their classrooms the day before Back to School Open House night. In other places around Idaho, teachers did support the standards in large numbers. That was because they deeply understand the importance of strong standards and the stark consequences there would be for Idaho’s children if they were to be overturned.
At the hearing, I walked into a sea of red shirts. I quickly knew that these were not fellow teachers based on the sneers I got as I walked in the door (you see, I had the word “teacher” on my shirt). I was with a small group of passionate educators who love teaching, and who care deeply that students leave their classrooms with the tools they need to become lifelong learners. Disturbingly, we teachers were booed, hissed at, even threatened with violence. It was not an easy crowd by any measure. While a few people gave teachers a cursory ‘thanks,’ we were not treated as professionals who thoroughly know the standards and our expertise was not appreciated. Testimony showed that there is some wild inaccuracy and even paranoia in what some people think is happening in our classrooms.
When Mr. Hoffman says that “parents and other taxpayers” (last time I checked, I am BOTH, as are most teachers) worry that “the content is insufficient to produce an educated citizenry,” most teachers are incredulous. The standards are more rigorous than they have ever been in the past. If academic performance is “diminished” by some measure, is there no other explanation than the standards being to blame? What is the proof that the standards themselves caused this and not by other reasons, most of which are outside the control of the educators the so-called Freedom Foundation like to scapegoat.
Any radical change to education is difficult. I get it. Common Core Math! We heard a lot about that one. The funny thing is – we heard from the anti-standards crowd that the USA would never have gotten to the moon with Common Core Math! Educators know that is EXACTLY the type of creative thinking that drives innovation. Common Core Standards ensure that we won’t have a class of students who can only do the standard algorithm and have no idea why or how it works. They ensure that we have students with a keen grasp of fiction and nonfiction texts, who are critical thinkers. Because of these standards, students in our elementary schools are doing research and analysis, inquiry-based learning, and evidence-based writing. There is consistency when our students need it, even if they move to another district or another state. The rigor of my teaching has grown immeasurably since the standards were adopted. Teachers across the nation can work cooperatively to find the best ways to teach the standards in engaging ways that meet the needs of our diverse learners. Is it the way that we learned math? Maybe not. But I was terrible at math as a child because my teachers only taught one method. And if I didn’t get it, too bad. Some kids were innately good at math because their brains did Common Core strategies naturally. Unlike the past, we are giving every kid a chance to succeed.
The standards will prepare our students for college or careers. They are developed to align with college and workforce expectations, preparing students for success. From kindergarten to 12th grade, the standards explain what students should be able to perform at various points in their academic lives. They surely prepare students to fully understand reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, arts and humanities, computer science, health, information and communication technology, and physical education.
Mr. Hoffman described people as being concerned with a lack of local or state control. This is another misconception. Our local schools, communities and school boards choose and adopt the curriculum used to teach the standards. The standards are reviewed by the State Department of Education every 5-6 years on a rotating basis. This is not a federal mandate. The standards are not tied to any political ideology. I heard from so many people at the hearing that Idaho’s education should be “different” than other states to be any good. I disagree. I believe that preparing students for success is an American way of life, and that common educational ground for all students is what every child deserves.
Written by Karen Lauritzen, a second grade teacher at Mullan Trail Elementary School in Post Falls.