COEUR d'ALENE - A group of North Idaho opponents of the Common Core initiative went head-to-head Thursday in Coeur d'Alene with one of the effort's leading proponents, Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna.
The event, an informational meeting organized by Tea Party leader Pam Stout of Bonner County, attracted about 35 people to the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.
Luna arrived a few minutes late for the morning gathering, and as he walked to the front of the room, past the waiting audience, he smiled, apologized for being late, and said, tongue-in-cheek, "Am I in trouble?"
From the chairs, a man shouted a comment that set the tone for the rest of the one-hour meeting: "Hey Tom, you are in trouble, because you're pushing something we don't want."
Luna then proceeded to give a presentation about the Idaho Core Standards, the Gem State's version of the Common Core Standards. The core standards are academic benchmarks designed to be more rigorous than existing standards. They align across the states that choose to adopt them. Idaho signed on to the effort in 2009, and the state adopted the Common Core standards in 2011. There are now 45 states that have adopted the standards.
The Idaho standards will be in place in the state's public schools this fall.
Throughout Luna's presentation, he was confronted by people in the crowd who shouted out comments, often challenging what Luna, the highest elected education official in Idaho was saying about the core standards.
"Everything about this is by Bill Gates," yelled a man.
He interrupted Luna at a point when Luna was telling the group that Idaho's higher education leaders say that with the new standards in place, they believe the state's high school graduates will be college-ready and will not require remedial course work before they are able to take college-level classes. About 50 percent of college entrants in the state now require remediation before they can earn college credits.
Stout asked the audience members to withhold their comments and questions until Luna finished his presentation.
Luna tried to address one of the core standards' detractors chief complaints - a perception that the standards are heavily influenced and controlled by the federal government, that they represent a federal curriculum. Luna told the group that under the Constitution the federal government has no role or authority over education.
"Then explain the U.S. Department of Education," shouted out an audience member.
Audience members said the standards are too low, that they don't aim high enough.
Some people at the meeting indicated they believe textbook publishers are in collusion with the developers of the Common Core, that corporate interests are driving the effort and the curriculum.
Several times, Luna asked the audience members to review the standards, which can be found on the state education department's website, and tell him which ones they think are too high or too low. He said he has asked various groups this question, and has never heard a specific complaint about any of the standards.
Maureen Paterson, from outside Priest River in Bonner County, handed out fliers at the start of the meeting. The headline topping a list of "documented facts" handed out by Paterson was "Common Core = Obama Core."
During the meeting, Paterson shared a concern of many core standards opponents.
She said that if teachers are being evaluated based on student assessments connected with the core standards, the curriculum will ultimately be driven by the standards. Therefore, Paterson reasoned, local control of curriculum is affected by the core standards.
Another woman said businesses that develop curriculum are already aligning themselves with the standards.
"They've always aligned their curriculum to state standards," Luna said.
He said that Idaho is too small, that it doesn't have the funding to develop an assessment as robust as the one that accompanies the core standards. The test has been developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, represented by a group of Common Core states, including Idaho.
Luna said several times that local districts retain control over their curriculum under the standards.
Linda Yergler, a trustee in the Kellogg School District, said she sits on her district's curriculum committee.
"When I ask if we can pick our own textbooks, they say we can't," Yergler said. "If we have local control, I would be a really happy camper, but it's less and less."
A person complained that the standards haven't been tested, that they don't know if they'll be good for students.
"What we do know is that every time we raise standards, performance goes up," Luna said.
Before raising similar complaints to those previously discussed, a man who spoke late in the meeting described himself as a Tea Party member.
"I'm a fan," said Luna, a Republican, before the man continued.
At the end of the meeting, Luna told the group he was sorry if he "got a little defensive" during the presentation, and said he appreciates that they came out and shared their opinions.
"I think it's the right role for states to work together on this, to find efficiencies," he said.
Luna then headed over to The Coeur d'Alene Resort, where he gave a similar presentation to the Kootenai County Federation of Republican Women.