The following are Superintendent Luna’s prepared remarks to the Idaho School Boards Association at its annual conference on November 7, 2013.
Thank you for inviting me to be here today. You play a vital leadership role in your school districts and your communities. Your leadership is evident now more than ever.
Your Executive Director Karen Echeverria has gained the respect and trust of legislators and policy makers. Last legislative session, Karen’s efforts, and the leadership of your executive committee, played the key role in passing critical legislation securing for elected school boards the tools they need to manage the affairs of their local schools. You are well served and well represented by Karen and her staff.
Your participation in the Task Force for Improving Education was also critical. Two months ago, a statewide Task Force of education stakeholders published 20 recommendations for how Idaho can improve its public education system to ensure every child graduates from high school prepared to pursue their dreams. I support and strongly endorse all 20 recommendations, from restoring operational funds to increasing dual credit and AP opportunities for all high students, and from phasing in a career ladder to upgrades in technology for all students. All of these recommendations are vital, and together, they create a comprehensive plan for improving our schools.
I could talk passionately about each one, but today I will focus my remarks on just one the 20 recommendations. That is the Task Force’s endorsement of the Idaho Core Standards.
In 2011, Idaho voluntarily adopted these higher academic standards in math and English language arts to raise the bar for Idaho students. This year, $20 million is being spent to provide the professional development and assistance in implementing the standards. Professional development must be ongoing and increase next year and forward.
Now, why adopt higher standards? Right, we have a higher graduation rate at about 90%. We also see that more than 90% of our students are proficient in reading, and more than 80% are proficient in math while they are in grades K-12. Yet, just three months later, of those students who go on to education after high school, nearly half of them have to take remedial courses once they get there.
If more than 90% are proficient in reading and more than 80% are proficient in math before they graduate, then it is obvious our standards are too low. We have to raise our standards.
In today’s world, we know the vast majority of students must have a degree or certificate in order to
reach their goals and pursue their dreams. Because of this, we have to prepare our students to go on to postsecondary education, whether that is community college, a four-year college, or vo-tech.
Our goal cannot just be that we want our students to be successful in school. We must do all we can to make sure that they are successful outside of school, when they graduate and go on to the real world where they will live and work. By raising our standards, we can better prepare students while they are IN school, rather than trying to remediate students after they graduate. By then, more often than not, it is too late.
So why did we choose to adopt common standards with other states? Before most states decided to adopt common standards in math and English language arts, we had 50 states with 50 different standards. Some set high math standards and reported that 70% of their students were on grade level. Others set low standards and reported that 85% of their students were on grade level. The perception is that the state with the low standards is doing better, but that is not necessarily the case. Having common standards will give us reliable data and the ability to learn from each other and make sure our children are truly being prepared for the competitive world they will live in as adults.
This began as a state-led effort, and it remains a state led effort today. State participation is voluntary and remains voluntary today. Idaho did not receive any federal funds to participate, and we will not lose any federal dollars if we walk away from the Common Core Standards tomorrow. Idaho is collecting the same amount of data we were collecting before we adopted these standards, and if we walk away from these standards tomorrow, we will still collect the same amount of data. Idaho has had core standards in math and English language arts for over 10 years, and just as those standards did not require or force districts to use a specific curriculum or textbook or lesson plans, the same is true off these new higher standards.
I have visited several schools across the state in recent weeks, from Sugar-Salem to Cottonwood, from Deary to Coeur d’Alene, from St. Maries to West Side and more. Every school is now implementing these higher standards. What I have seen has been nothing short of amazing: students are engaged in problem solving. They are using critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems, problems we know they will face when they get to the workforce. These standards will have a real effect on how well-prepared our students are for life after high school.
Idaho is three years into what will be a five-year transition to these standards. I can already see the positive impacts in our classrooms. These standards will be more difficult for Idaho's students; there's no doubt about it. But they will be better for our students, and for the future of our state.
The Common Core also has been a unifying event in education in Idaho. The Standards are supported by teachers and administrators, from K-12 to higher education. The business community has united in their very outward and vocal support. Local chambers of commerce and many local school boards have expressed their support.
Tomorrow, you will have the opportunity to add your collective voice in support of these new, higher, clearer standards. I encourage you to do so. Your strong support will be critical and key go forward.
Thank you again for being here today, and thank you for being involved. Thank you for your leadership. It’s your leadership and your voice at the local level that is critical as we embark on implementation of the Task Force recommendations and moving our education system forward.