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Education
A Nampa elementary student working on a classroom computer which will be used to give a Common Core related test later this school year.Idaho public school kids had a new set of learning objectives guiding their schools' curriculum and their teachers' lessons when they arrived for the start of the 2013 school year. These are the Common Core State Standards. They cover math and English language arts, which includes reading, writing and related subjects.The Common Core (which Idaho’s Department of Education now refers to as the Idaho Core Standards) was developed by a consortium of states and has been adopted by 45, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.Timeline 2007: Informal talks begin between a few state school chiefs on writing shared standards. Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna says he was involved in the first discussion. 2009: Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governor's Association form the Common Core States Standards Initiative to create a set of shared standards. March 2010: First draft of the Common Core Standards released for public comment. June 2010: Final draft released. Sept.-Oct 2010: Idaho's State Board of Education holds public meetings on Common Core. November 2010: Idaho State Board of Education votes to adopt the standards. January 2011: Idaho's House and Senate Education Committees vote to adopt the standards. Fall 2013: Common Core becomes the standards for all Idaho public schools.The StandardsThis map shows the states that haven't adopted Common Core standards.Here are a few examples of the Common Core Standards, these are for kindergarten.Reading:With prompting and support ask and answer questions about key details in a text.With prompting and support, identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a story.Math:Count to 100 by ones and by tens.Identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than, or equal to the number of objects in another group, e.g., by using matching and counting strategiesHere are some links where you can read all the math and English standards for all grades.Idaho had standards prior to Common Core. States have been required to have basic standards for a long time. Supporters say the new Common Core standards are more rigorous and will help students develop skills like critical thinking that they will need in college and in the workforce. Compare and contrast for yourself, read Idaho’s pre-Common Core math and English standards.The 'Common' In Common CoreCommon Core is not just about having high-quality standards. Theoretically, states could write standards on their own that are just as good. The common in Common Core is the idea that a third grader could move from Idaho to Oregon or Florida without missing out on learning fractions somewhere along the way. But it’s also about comparing how students in different states are doing at meeting their standards. Before Common Core, states not only wrote their own standards, but also their own tests to measure students against those state-specific standards.The TestStates are mostly evenly divided in two groups to develop two Common Core linked tests. Idaho joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. While the group that wrote the standards did not take federal money, the groups developing the tests do.00000176-d8fc-dce8-adff-faff72490001The Smarter Balanced Assessment is still under development. In the 2012/2013 school year, some Idaho schools piloted an early version. In the spring of 2014, all Idaho schools will give the test to students in 3rd through 11th grades, though some schools may not have to test 9th and 10th graders. This 2014 test will not be used to measure student learning. It is a practice test to help its developers work out the bugs. The final version is scheduled to be ready in 2015. Take a practice Smarter Balanced test here.The Smarter Balanced test will replace the ISAT which Idaho has been using for several years to measure student progress. However, Idaho’s State Department of Education will likely keep the name ISAT and apply it to this new test.Idaho’s old ISAT was entirely multiple choice questions, but the Smarter Balanced Assessment will have multiple choice and other types of questions like written responses. It uses Computer Adaptive Technology so questions will be tailored to how well a student is doing, getting harder or easier depending on previous answers. OppositionThough the change to Common Core has been in the works for years, it largely flew under the radar. Nationally, opposition began to grow in 2012. Early the next year, opponents of Common Core appeared in Idaho. Opposition has been a grass-roots effort and has come from the far right and far left on the political spectrum.In Idaho, opposition to Common Core has been led by the group Idahoans For Local Education, founded by Boise stay-at-home-mom Stephanie Zimmerman, read what she says about Common Core here. The conservative activist group the Idaho Freedom Foundation is also a prominent opponent of the standards.More recently, the anti-Common Core cause has been taken up by national conservative organizations like Americans For Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which wants ending Common Core to be the first step in a much larger effort that includes eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. SupportersIdaho’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Gov. C.L. “Butch" Otter have been prominent supporters of Common Core, even while the standards were still being developed. Many other influential people and organizations have also come to Common Core’s defense including business leaders and education groups. Last summer, many of Idaho's Common Core supporters formed a coalition to promote the standards called Idahoans for Excellence in Education. You can see the list of members here and read why they support Common Core here.Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio

Idaho Common Core Opponents And Supporters Line Up For Battle

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Adam Cotterell
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Boise State Public Radio

Idaho and 44 other states now use the Common Core State Standards. But public discomfort with this set of learning objectives has been growing, and lawmakers in several states have tried to get rid of them.

Indiana has gone farther than any state to reverse course on Common Core. Last spring, its Legislature paused implementation of the standards for a year while a committee studied them. Much of the credit for halting Common Core goes to two Indianapolis housewives. They founded a grassroots effort against the standards.

In Idaho, some lawmakers would also like to hit pause on Common Core or get rid of it altogether. And, in an echo from Indiana, there are two Boise housewives urging them to do it.

Stephanie Zimmerman leads the fight against Common Core in Idaho. Her chief lieutenant is Stacey Knudsen. Both are college graduates and middle-class stay-at-home moms. Knudsen has five children and Zimmerman has eight.

Zimmerman's oldest is in high school and her youngest is less than a year old. They don’t see her nearly as much since she started her Common Core opposition effort, but she’s doing it she says because most of her children still have a lot of classroom years ahead.    

“There is a movement across the nation led mainly by mothers, sprinkle in a few fathers for good measure, who have looked at [Common Core] and said this is not what’s best for our children,”  Zimmerman says.

Zimmerman and Knudsen have a long list of objections to the standards. For example, they see them as federal encroachment on state control of education and say the standards haven’t been proven academically. Supporters counter that the standards were spearheaded by a group of states without federal intervention and written by top education scholars.

Zimmerman started her fight in late 2012, writing to lawmakers and education and political groups around the state. At the time, Idaho was embroiled in the fight over the Students Come First education laws which voters repealed that November. Zimmerman thinks that’s why no one would listen to her, at first.

“And then all of a sudden the elections were over and people started responding to my e-mails, ‘yeah, I’ve been looking at this,’” she says.  

By summer 2013, Zimmerman’s voice had gone from a whisper to a roar. Her sympathizers dominated public meetings of the governor’s Education Improvement Task Force and Zimmerman, Knudsen and their group Idahoans For Local Education had brought prominent national foes of Common Core to speak in Boise. These housewives had put some of Idaho’s most powerful individuals and groups on the defensive.

“This isn’t something we can take lightly,” says Rod Gramer, head of Idaho Business for Education, a group of CEOs who lobby for education issues. “It’s really important for the legislators to know that we believe this is a small minority, vocal but small minority, that oppose the standards.”

Last summer, Gramer launched another group, Idahoans for Excellence in Education, to champion Common Core. Its membership roll shows a curious mix of people and groups that sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye. It includes all the state’s major education groups, some of whom often don’t get along like the teachers' union and superintendents association.

It also boasts Gramer’s business group, another influential business lobby and all the state’s university presidents, to name just a few. If Idaho’s Common Core fight was a football game it might look like an NFL team staring across the scrimmage line at a high school second string. But the rookies have these pros sweating. Gramer says they’re worried lawmakers might get rid of Common Core this year or halt implementation like Indiana did.

“The threat of the repeal or the delay is real. It’s happening in other states around the United States,” Gramer says.

But Tom Luna says Idaho is not Indiana. Luna is Idaho’s schools’ superintendent and has been involved with Common Core since its inception.

“In Indiana, it does not have to go to the Legislature for those standards to be implemented in the state,” Luna says. “So Indiana’s Legislature never had an opportunity to review them and weigh in on them before they were adopted.”

Indiana’s Department of Education has authority to adopt standards, and signed on to Common Core in 2010 without approval from the Legislature. But lawmakers there have now reviewed the standards. A special committee took the summer to do it. However, it could not agree on whether they are are good or bad. A bill is now being considered there to delay implementation another year.

Idaho law did require the state’s legislative education committees to approve Common Core, which they did in 2011. But some of the lawmakers who sat on those committees have become critics, like Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian.

Now Luna’s Department of Education and Gramer’s coalition have partnered on a public relations campaign to boost Common Core’s image. It includes social media and online ads like this one.

This effort to meet Common Core opponents head-on is a big change. A few months ago, supporters dismissed opponents as "crazy conspiracy theorists."

Some of the objections to Common Core are conspiracy theories. One person at a public meeting last year of the state’s Education Improvement Task Force testified that the standards are a United Nations plot to destroy capitalism. Stephanie Zimmerman wonders if some of her more eccentric supporters will hurt her cause.

“You’re always going to have crazy people,” Zimmerman says. “You know, to a certain extent no matter what you’re involved in, whether you’re on the left side of the spectrum or the right side of the spectrum there are people out there that are, you know, sort of on the fringes.”

But Stacey Knudsen says most of the anti-Common Core movement is not on the fringe.

“Don’t pass us off as right wing crazy people, because that’s not who we are,” Knudsen says. "We are moms who love our kids, who love education.”

However, Zimmerman and Knutson admit they think there might be some truth -- even in some of the things that seem crazy -- like UN involvement.

While this fight goes on, Idaho teachers are using Common Core standards to guide their lessons. So far, no Idaho lawmakers have tried to eliminate the standards or pause implementing them. But Rod Gramer says this year could just be a warm up to a Common Core struggle that may last for years in Idaho.

“We want to make sure we’re in this for the long haul and not just the 2014 session,” Gramer says.

Here’s why the fight could last for a while: Common Core supporters need multiple years of test results to show that the standards raise student achievement. Idaho schools will pilot a Common Core test this spring, with the first test that counts for schools happening in 2015. So it could be 2016, 2017 or later before supporters can offer any evidence that the Common Core standards have helped Idaho students.

But that test has critics of its own. Even some educators who support the standards dislike the test because of its length. It could take eight hours to administer. And Idaho’s Department of Education warns there will likely be a backlash from parents after students take it for the first time because it’s harder than Idaho’s pre-Common Core assessments and students will appear to do worse.

Lawmaker Steven Thayn says he probably won’t try to get rid of Common Core this year but he’s likely to introduce a bill to get Idaho out of the test.

If the teams do line up again over the Common Core football game next year, things might not look so uneven. Common Core opposition started as a grassroots movement, but now big far-right organizations and donors are starting to play. This time next year, we could be watching a different game.

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio