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Common Core topic of schools workshop

Idaho schools will switch this fall to Common Core State Standards designed to raise student achievement, and the Coeur d’Alene School Board will take a closer look Monday at what that means for local schools.

The board workshop was prompted by questions and concerns raised by constituents, including some who see the new English and math standards as a step toward a federal takeover of local education.

“The state has adopted Common Core, (and) locally we have some concerns about our ability to maintain control of our curriculum, so how are we going to accomplish that?” board Chairman Tom Hamilton said.

Hamilton said none of the school trustees has indicated to him an interest in backing away from Common Core, which 45 states have adopted. “I don’t think we can, and I don’t know that we should,” he said.

Although the more rigorous standards were developed by state education chiefs and governors and backed by Republicans and Democrats, a rift over Common Core has opened across the country.

Led on the right by conservative firebrand Glenn Beck, opponents argue that the national standards undercut state and local autonomy, that state standards are exacting enough, and that the new standards remain untested. A few states are pulling back from Common Core, and parents in some areas want to exempt their children from tests under the new standards.

The Republican National Committee recently passed a resolution condemning Common Core as an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children,” and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa launched a bid to eliminate federal funding for the core effort.

Supporters, including Republican Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, argue that a consistent set of standards across the states better serves college-bound students and elevates the skills of the workforce.

Idaho Superintendent Tom Luna, who has supported the move to Common Core along with Gov. Butch Otter, holds a similar view. The Coeur d’Alene School Board recently asked Luna why districts should adopt the new standard if students aren’t now meeting the lower standards.

Luna replied: “I believe students rise to the level of the expectations we set for them. In order to get there, our teachers must teach to a higher, more rigorous standard. We are only doing our students a disservice if they graduate from an Idaho high school believing they are college and career ready, only to find they need remediation when they get there.”

Too many Idaho students graduate from high school unprepared for the rigors of postsecondary education or the workforce, his office said. Only 47 percent of Idaho’s graduates go on to postsecondary education, and nearly half of those need remedial courses once there, according to the state Department of Education.

Hamilton said that point resonates with him as well. Backing away from Common Core as most of the nation’s schools transition to it might hamstring local students who move elsewhere, he said.

“Populations aren’t as stable as they used to be 30 years ago,” he said. “Our kids move – a lot of our schools have really transient populations.”

The more relevant question, Hamilton said, is whether Common Core poses a loss of local control of curriculum, “and if so, how are we going to mitigate that? How are we going to maintain the flavor of our district?”

The state superintendent’s office is telling districts and the public “it remains up to each local school district to select curriculum, not the state or federal government.”

The Common Core standards do not discuss or require curriculum, Luna’s office said. “In Idaho, the state sets academic standards, or the goals for what each child should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level.  … Local school districts and public charter schools will determine the best curriculum to help the teachers in their schools teach these new academic standards.”