Idaho’s education chief made the case Thursday for moving forward with higher academic standards for public schools, saying the state must better prepare students for college, trade schools and the job market.
Idaho has a good education system but needs a great one, state Superintendent Tom Luna said at a meeting of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans. “Good is no longer good enough,” he said.
The Common Core State Standards in math and English, coming to Idaho schools this fall, raise the bar for what students are expected to learn at each grade level, Luna said.
The tougher standards do not bind Idaho to any federal mandates, nor do they apply to private or home schools, he added in response to some of the concerns people have raised about Common Core.
They do encourage critical thinking and problem-solving skills, he said.
“When students see relevancy in what they are learning, rigor will take care of itself,” Luna said. “It’s lighting that fire to where they become responsible for their own learning because they see value in it.”
Backed by Luna and Gov. Butch Otter, Common Core was adopted by the Idaho Legislature in January 2011. Most states have adopted Common Core standards, but some have reconsidered amid a recent backlash driven in part by a fear of federal intervention in state control of public education.
Luna has been traveling the state to assure audiences the new standards were developed by the states, not the federal government, and he assured Thursday’s crowd that federal officials are not pushing Common Core onto the state.
“This is voluntary,” Luna said. “There is nothing that would stop Idaho from walking away from these standards today. There’s no consequences at all.”
He added, “I would never surrender our state sovereignty to the federal government, especially when it comes to the education of our children.”
There are no federal dollars contingent on participating in Common Core, he said, but Idaho would lose the opportunity to compare its student test scores with those in other states.
Idaho has a high school graduation rate of 92 percent, among the highest in the country. But only 46 percent of those students pursue more education, and of those who do go on, 41 percent need remedial courses, Luna said.
“We’ve given them a diploma, but they’re not ready for the math, they’re not ready for the English, they’re not ready for the rigors of college or university work,” he said.
In Idaho, only 34 percent of adults have a post-high school degree or certificate, yet 60 percent of jobs today require more than a high school diploma, Luna said.
“Our ultimate goal in Idaho is … that every student graduates and that when they graduate they go on to postsecondary education and they do not need remediation when they get there,” he said.
Brent Regan, one of three Coeur d’Alene School Board members listening to Luna’s talk, said afterward he wants to make sure the new standards and the tests that follow are mileposts to measure progress, not substitutes for goals.
“One of the biggest dangers, I think, is that if we take these standards and we say those are now going to be the goals,” Regan said. “And if you use goals as standards, then when you get to the goal, if you will, you’re done.”
The true objective, he said, is providing an education that leads to achievement in life.
“I want every kid to go as far as they can as fast as they can, and then when they graduate to have the tools they need to do what they want to do, whatever that might be,” Regan said.