Task Force for Improving Education

Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter during a Wednesday afternoon meeting at Boise State University, where the governor praised the work of the state's Task Force for Improving Education. 

BOISE — An eastern Idaho school district superintendent renewed his concerns about the state-required Idaho Core Standards at a Wednesday meeting updating implementation progress on the 20 recommendations from the governor’s Task Force for Improving Education.

Madison School District Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas noted during a question-and-answer session at Boise State University that he was the lone task force opponent of the Idaho Core Standards, commonly referred to as Common Core.

“I’m concerned that the intention behind Common Core since its inception was to wed to a high-stakes assessment,” said Thomas, the 2015 Idaho Superintendent of the Year.

Thomas said the Idaho Core Standards result in “test-centric education,” and asserted that the education requirement leads to “profiteering, while it bankrupts a child’s educational experience.”

Thomas said the federal government “wants to drive education,” and “Common Core comes terribly close to having direct federal intervention” into in-state education systems.

After Thomas’ remarks, Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” defended the Common Core standards, saying their origin was with U.S. state governors, not the federal government.

“Any residual belief that this was a federal program should be dispelled,” said Otter, who praised the work of the task force on its 20 recommendations, some of which have been funded by the Idaho Legislature. The governor later added: “Any lingering idea out there that this was a federally sponsored, or the genesis of this came out of the federal Department of Education, is wrong, is simply wrong. The governors themselves got together and said, ‘We need to do something.’”

The education task force was the brainchild of Otter and former Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

“I can’t thank you enough, because I’ll tell you, this has exceeded my expectations,” Otter told the task force.

The governor said the first year’s worth of recommendations implemented in Idaho’s five-year plan was reflected in a 7.4 percent K-12 spending increase for the current school year.

Continuing to defend Idaho Core Standards, Otter allowed only that some cash-strapped U.S. states opted to use federal “Race to the Top” funding in recent years to pay for Common Core standard programs.

“There was no dictum,” the governor said. “There was no memorandum that you will use this money and this is what you’ll do with it, other than improving your education. But no direction.”

Thomas stated that the Idaho Core Standards were derived from the “No Child Left Behind” education program proposed by former U.S. Republican President George W. Bush.

Otter added: “This (Common Core) was a creation of the states. If (former U.S. Democratic President) Jimmy Carter would’ve left us alone, we would still be running our own education system to the extent that I believe we all should.”

But Thomas said a kindergarten teacher in one case, following Idaho Core Standards directives, was teaching parts of speech, including adverbs.

“Are you kidding?” Thomas said. “What are we doing here? It’s really concerning.”

“Common Core fails miserably in the younger grades by not understanding their cognitive development,” Thomas said.

Otter praised the task force’s overall work, saying that it “crossed party lines” and maintained that it “crossed liberal-conservative lines in the support of the 20 recommendations.” Alluding to Thomas’ opposition to Idaho Common Core, Otter in his speech noted that 19 of the 20 recommendations “had complete consensus” among task force members.

The governor also lauded the task force for what he indicated is its far-sighted approach.

“You’re to be congratulated, because that’s the first time I’ve seen a five-year plan for education,” Otter said.

Preston’s Richard Westerberg, the task force chairman and State Board of Education member, enumerated the task force’s 20 recommendations during a formal progress report in which he acknowledged in conclusion that “there’s still a lot of work to be done here” in implementing the recommendations.

“I guess I was a little bit surprised when the recommendations came out and how much kind of broad acceptance there were of the recommendations, not just from the Legislature but from education stakeholders across the state,” Westerberg said.

Westerberg noted that an expansion of bandwidth for statewide computer access for the schools would “require ongoing funding,” to fund the costs of the repair and replacement of computer equipment.

“This is a work in progress,” Westerberg said. “A legislative interim committee is evaluating solutions and will make recommendations to the governor and Legislature,” for the 2017 state budget starting July 1, 2016.

“We got some pretty good feedback from the task force members,” Westerberg said in a post-meeting interview. “They got a chance to hear from the governor. I think the governor articulated his vision real well and his support for education, so I thought it was all pretty positive.”

Westerberg said the “no” vote by Madison superintendent Thomas on the Idaho Core Standards recommendation was the only dissenting task force vote on the 20 recommendations.

“He has his opinion — I don’t agree with it,” Westerberg said of Thomas’ opposition to Idaho Core Standards. “The classroom teachers I have talked about that are using (Idaho) Core Standards are very supportive and feel like it’s helping.”

Westerberg said he expects the most challenging recommendation for implementation to be the “Mastery-based System” requiring student mastery of content for advancement “rather than seat time requirements.”

“There has been just beginning of the work done on how you implement mastery in the classroom, so the student moves at his own pace, not necessarily on a seat-time basis,” Westerberg said. “That’s a pretty intricate proposition that’ll require a fair amount of work and a whole bunch of pilot projects, I suspect.”