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Fri., Aug. 23, 2013, 12:54 p.m.

Ed task force endorses teacher career ladder, mastery-based student advancement, more…

The governor's education stakeholders task force has agreed on a slew of recommendations to recommend to Gov. Butch Otter, from a teacher career ladder program that could cost $253 million over six years, to advancing students based on mastery of subjects or concepts rather than grades. Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a rundown at his blog here; click below for a report on some of the recommendations from AP reporter John Miller, including a near-unanimous vote to endorse the new Idaho Core standards for student achievement. Richert also has posted a report here on today's outcome, its remarkable unanimity compared to the school reform fight that preceded it, and what happens next.

A list of the approved recommendations from the State Board of Education is online here, along with a link to details in lengthier documents from today's meetings.

Education panel sends recommendations to Otter

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — In addition to backing new math, reading and writing standards, the 31-member education task force created by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter supported sending additional recommendations to the Republican chief executive ahead of the 2014 Legislature, to potentially become policy or legislation. Here's a sampling:

— Bank-Breaker or Teacher Magnet: Otter's panel voted unanimously to recommend a six-year, $253 million teacher pay plan some say is necessary to keep states including neighboring Wyoming to the east, flush with energy cash, from poaching good Idaho teachers. Among the details: Boosting minimum teacher salaries to $40,000, from the $31,000 level now, and hiking pay for longtime educators to $60,000, while tying the top scale to performance. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde says the price tag could break the bank, but others say more money would help keep teachers in the classroom.

Like all the recommendations, to become reality this plan would have to win support from Otter and the Idaho Legislature.

— Recession Restoration: The task force members voted without dissent to restore some $82.5 million in operational revenue that school districts have lost since 2008 when the Great Recession forced lawmakers to cut into school budgets, despite hundreds of millions in federal education help that accompanied President Barack Obama's stimulus plan.

— Mastery not Grades: The panel voted unanimously to promote a style of education in which students would be pushed to master subjects or concepts before moving on to new ones, rather than simply testing students at the end of the semester or year. "The concept of grades goes away," said Bob Lokken, a task force participant. "The concept of mastery is what it's replaced with."

— Literacy Skills: Task force members want schools to double down on efforts to boost literacy proficiency, to ensure that more children are reading and writing at their grade level — in particular by the time they reach the third grade.

— Wireless Broadband: Schools should have access to wireless technology, to connect students and teachers to educational tools over the Internet. This unanimous recommendation follows Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's recent $2.1 million contract award to a company to provide statewide wireless access to more than 200 Idaho high schools and junior high schools, a deal that's drawn scrutiny from some lawmakers because of its price tag and because Tennessee-based Education Networks of America, not school districts, will own the wireless infrastructure.

At Friday's meeting, Idaho Education Association teacher union president Penny Cyr backed the recommendation to Otter, but cautioned funding for wireless shouldn't come at the expense of other recommendations from the education panel. Wireless costs shouldn't "outspend the funding for the other things we are recommending today," Cyr said.

— Classroom Computing: Also unanimously, the education task force favored giving teachers and students "adequate access to technology devices" in the classroom. The recommendation doesn't require so-called "one-to-one" computing devices, a disputed provision of the Students Come First laws rejected decisively by voters last November.

Instead, it calls for giving districts and schools the ability to determine what devices are appropriate. "We want to empower school districts, we want to empower teachers to decide what adequate access is going to look like," said House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

Task force wades into politics, backs Common Core
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's education improvement task force waded deep into politics Friday, voting nearly unanimously to support new nationwide education standards for reading, writing and math that face a nascent effort by some Idaho lawmakers to derail them come the 2014 Legislature.

The task force, assembled by Otter eight months ago, met to finalize recommendations to the Republican governor on how Idaho can best boost the number of people with a post-secondary degree to 60 percent, from just 35 percent now. The panel was created after Idaho voters rejected the Students Come First education overhaul last November, with Otter saying he wanted to use it to build more public support for changes to the state's education system.

All 31 panelists except one — Madison School District Superintendent Geoff Thomas — voted to support Idaho's push to advance with so-called "Common Core" requirements in 2014 that are part of a 45-state effort to align educational standards across America from the more-fragmented existing system. Common Core has become mired in divisive debate across the country, as groups such as the National Republican Party have labeled it an "inappropriate overreach."

In Idaho, lawmakers including former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, have suggested plans to scuttle Common Core when the Legislature meets in January. Some fear the new standards are being driven by the federal government and President Barack Obama's administration, something Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has insisted isn't the case.

Before Friday's vote, Luna pointed out while some 90 percent of Idaho high school students meet reading targets and nearly 85 percent meet math goals, nearly half of students who go on to college require remediation classes — a sign, he said, that Idaho's existing standards are insufficient and the new ones associated with Common Core are needed.

"Those that choose to go on, almost half of them have to take remedial classes," Luna said. "They're not prepared for what awaits them."

Idaho legislators voted to join the effort back in 2011. It will apply to math and English language arts and is meant to promote critical thinking skills, providing a clearer picture of what students are expected to learn to guide parents, educators and other school officials as they prepare kids for life beyond the public-school classroom.

But Idaho is by no means an isolated Common Core battleground.

In Maine, for instance, groups are also hoping to derail the new educational benchmarks, while lawmakers in Indiana have put Common Core standards on hold; other states where similar opposition has arisen include Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah.

Friday's lone Common Core foe, Thomas, argued its framework was developed by a private organization, Student Achievement, at the behest of the National Governors Association in 2009 without adequate teacher involvement, study or field testing.

At an Idaho Falls meeting earlier this year, he pointed out, nearly two dozen parents railed against the new standards, a sign he said for Idaho to take it slow.

"I have deep concerns about a forthcoming national assessment that teachers in school systems will be judged by the national assessment and the curriculum will be narrowed further," Thomas said.

State Sen. John Goedde, the Republican Senate Education Committee chairman, countered the standards will allow districts' educational performance to be judged against each other, not just across Idaho, but the nation.

Bob Lokken, a technology entrepreneur on Otter's panel, said backtracking on Common Core would condemn Idaho to becoming an educational backwater where demands for a perfect solution halt any progress.

"If we're unwilling to take the first step in a small way, we're going to be in a state of paralysis to do anything different," Lokken said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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