BOISE -- Common Core, or Idaho Core Standards, were voted in a few years ago and are already in effect in all classrooms, but some are calling for lawmakers to reverse the state's education standards this session.
Lawmakers on the Senate and House education committees accepted a lot of questions from the public to be answered in the debate. Then, six panelists, (three in favor of and three against Common Core) sat down to answer the questions for lawmakers to consider.
Is there local control?
One of the first questions was: Do Common Core standards dictate curriculum and materials [students]... are required to study? How much autonomy do districts have?
"As a teacher, my process for selecting curriculum has not changed since Common Core has been implemented. I'm supposed to implement these standards, but as far as developing my curriculum and my content, I have full control over what I ask my students to read and write," Stephanie Rice, a teacher from Council, said.
Stephanie Zimmerman, an outspoken critic of Common Core, and a mother of eight, said even if districts can pick their own materials, the standards essentially dictate what they would be able to choose.
"Standards plus assessments drive curriculum. So eventually the curriculum the schools buy is going to have to be geared toward Common Core," Zimmerman said.
An administrator against Common Core said in order to be prepared for the tests associated with the standards, teachers have to teach toward that. Specifically, he said math and English are being prioritized for the test, while other subjects like civics and fine arts are pushed aside. Educators in favor of the standards, on the other hand, say the system is allowing more critical comprehension across subjects.
How do you know standards are correct?
Some, including lawmakers, have expressed concern that Idaho kids are part of an experiment, so there was this question: What proof is there that each standard is appropriate at each grade level?
One administrator said he'd personally tried a practice 11th grade test and says it seemed like college math level. He also said kindergarten requirements were beyond what should probably be expected.
"We're worried that the standards may be too high and that the test definitely is too hard," Bruce Cook, Madison School District (Rexburg) Program Director, said.
Rice said there would likely be a gap in the first year, but it will settle. It's an idea Superintendent Tom Luna has repeatedly talked about, that higher standards will mean higher quality education to elevate Idaho's students.
"In my experience with teaching, if you set the bar high, and with the appropriate scaffolding and modeling and teaching techniques, that you can get your kids there and they will achieve a higher standard, rather than with lower expectations," Rice said.
Can Idaho take a step back? And should lawmakers do that?
A few questions boiled down to: Can the state reevaluate Common Core, and was there enough teachers and public input on the front end?
"I think it would be wonderful if we could put a halt to this entire Common Core process and wait for legislators to go back and speak to their constituents," Dorothy Cook, a retired educator, said.
"There were public forums held, so there were opportunities for public input to take place. The other thing is that we were given two years to prepare for this transition. My belief is that some buildings and/or districts may not have taken advantage of that time to make the necessary preparations," Steve LaBau, Nampa's Lake Ridge Elementary School Principal, said.
What would happen if Idaho went backward?
Some other states are reexamining their adoption of Common Core standards right now. If Idaho were to rewind, lawmakers would still have to come up with some type of uniform standards for education, either the old ones or a totally new way, because it's required by law.
The Idaho Department of Education says Indiana has been going through a reevaluation of Common Core, and based on that state's experience, there would be a great deal of confusion in Idaho's schools if lawmakers were to stop the implementation of Common Core.