New Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra promised Idahoans displeased with Common Core standards would have a voice in her administration.
Ybarra, who on Tuesday held her first press conference since being sworn-in to the post this week, said she would listen to complaints about Common Core regulations, controversial guidelines that seek to bring clarity and consistency to Idaho classrooms.
“I’ve always said from day one I am not a supporter of the entire package of Common Core,” she said. “And so what that means is, we need to give back to districts local control.”
Idaho joined the Common Core effort in 2009 and accepted math and English language arts standards in early 2011, both under former Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.
Ybarra said she backs a portion of the controversial package, but wants to examine another piece. “The standards are the piece of that I support,” Ybarra explained. “The testing is more of focus where we need to take a look.”
That’s a mixed bag, at least according to one Common Core opponent, Middleton resident and mother of five Tammy Nichols.
“Common Core standards have never been tested or proven to be higher standards,” Nichols contended. “Next, they have been proven to be developmentally inappropriate for children, especially for younger students.”
Nichols agreed with Ybarra on testing issues. “I also don't like that the standards tie teachers’ salaries to testing results,” she said. “Some kids are not good test takers and that is unfair to hold a teacher to that.”
Common Core links teacher evaluations and test scores, a deeply unpopular idea among educators. A Gallup poll of 854 educators taken last year revealed 89 percent of teachers reject that correlation.
Ybarra said instead of focusing on arbitrary testing, Idaho schools need to focus on students’ individual needs. “Addressing the whole child is part of that,” she said. “It means we address the unique needs of our students as individuals, and that we continue to focus on higher standards.”
Nichols agrees. “Common Core has a one-size-fits-all approach, which basically means that all children should learn the same. This is not possible as each child is different and therefore learns differently,” she said.
But the activist and superintendent diverge on a path forward for Idaho’s education system.
“Idaho is just at the beginning stages and more and more parents, teachers and other educators are waking up to what is really going on and why it needs to be stopped,” Nichols said. She wants Idaho lawmakers to repeal Common Core in its entirety.
It’s not unheard of. Indiana dropped its participation with the standards last year, and Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is pushing his state to leave, too. Some states, like Alaska, never adopted the standards, while others approved portions.
While Ybarra seeks a closer look, full repeal seems unlikely.
“As far as the Common goes, we’ve already been working on those standards for a while now, and to rip the rug out from underneath educators and students alike is not in the best interest of kids,” she explained, adding that her administration will seek middle ground on the issue.
“There is a middle ground where we can all come together,” she said.
Asked again if Common Core opponents would have a voice during her time as chief of schools, she replied with a simple, “Yes.”
Nichols hopes that’s borne out in Ybarra’s day-to-day work, and offered to help the superintendent move forward. “I don't think she really understands what Common Core is about or what the issues are with it, but she better get busy and make sure she is educated on it now. We will gladly help her on that part.”