Idaho Core: One Semester Down, Many More to Go 

"We're moving away from conversations that start, 'Your child is a pleasure to have in class...' That really doesn't tell you a lot about your child."

When Kendra Wisenbaker hosted parent-teacher conferences in her fifth-grade classroom at Meridian's Sienna Elementary School in October, there was plenty to share, but a very different way of sharing.

"We're moving away from those conversations that start, 'Your child is a pleasure to have in class...' That really doesn't tell you a lot about your child," said Wisenbaker.

Wisenbaker talks with endless enthusiasm about her class and, in particular, how her students (she likes to call them "kiddos") are faring in this, the inaugural year of the Idaho Core Standards (BW, News, "The Common Core of the Matter, July, 31, 2013).

"They're starting to learn this tenacity, this extra effort of hard work," she said. "They're figuring out that they have to re-read material, to persist, to try harder."

She added that the core of Idaho Core--insisting that students understand the "how" in addition to coming up with answers--is not the most natural thing for a fifth-grader.

"A 10-year-old has lots of opinions," she said with a laugh. "But they don't necessarily know why they have those opinions."

Mike Lanza knows all too well exactly who Wisenbaker was describing.

"I have one of those 10-year-olds with opinions," said the Boise parent. "Plus, a 13-year-old with more opinions. I'm completely in support of the Idaho Core Standards."

But Lanza is concerned about what he says is "bad information" being circulated.

"There has been a lot of misinformation out there. We live in a diverse media environment, and some of the reporting has not been high-quality or even accurate," he said. "And if there is some successful backlash to the Idaho Core Standards at the upcoming legislative session because of that misinformation, it could be a major setback for the broader effort to improve schools in Idaho."

Anne Ritter, chair of the Meridian School Board and past president of the Idaho School Boards Association, told Boise Weekly that she has tried to engage with opponents.

"I have really tried to explain Idaho Core, but I don't know if they believe it," said Ritter, who added that most of what she called "pockets" of opposition were coming from Eastern Idaho and the Panhandle. "I understand it's a very personal thing."

And Wisenbaker would love to talk to more people about the change.

"There might be some of those back-door conversations that almost undermine what we're trying to do in the classroom, but I would love for parents to call me," she said. "I can tell you this, the kids are embracing the new challenge."

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