A panel of Idaho lawmakers on Wednesday took testimony involving Idaho’s education standards on English and literacy for the state’s 300,000 students put forward by the Idaho State Board of Education.
The House Education Committee opted not to vote on a recommendation to the full House on whether to approve or reject the standards until it has also taken testimony on math and science standards, with those hearings running into next week.
The Idaho Content Standards are heavily based on Common Core standards and are often referred to by that name.
The Common Core standards are math and English benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states to describe what students should know after completing each grade. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association but became a frequent target of Republicans after the Obama administration pushed states to adopt them.
In general, opponents contend they are a federal program with sometimes inappropriate curriculum being forced on states while allowing some companies to profit at the expense of Idaho school kids who aren’t achieving better results.
They also contend states are being coerced into using them because they could lose federal funding for education by not adopting them.
Those in favor of keeping the standards, in general, say the standards are something states voluntarily opt into with identifiable benchmarks that help schools and teachers without setting curriculum and are keeping Idaho students competitive. They said there is no risk of losing federal education funding by not using them.
Both sides during the three-hour committee meeting Wednesday cited results from various test results supporting their arguments. Every teacher who testified supported keeping the standards.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said she wanted to keep the standards but suggested some of the learning materials used to help achieve them could be made more Idaho-specific.
Tom Luna, Idaho’s former superintendent of public instruction, also supported keeping the standards. He said Idaho lawmakers voted to adopt the standards about 10 years ago. He said one of the primary purposes of the standards is to give Idaho a comparative analysis of how Idaho students are doing relative to other states.
“It was not focused just on higher achievement,” he said.
He also said the state having uniform standards benefited students who move from one district to another. Finally, he pointed out that Texas and Virginia have never adopted Common Core standards, and neither state has lost federal education money.
State agencies this year are seeking approval for their entire administrative rules after lawmakers last year failed to pass a bill approving them. As a result, some lawmakers are seeking to strip Common Core standards from the administrative rules put forward by the Idaho Department of Education.
Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon of Stanley, in central Idaho, has said she wants the state to do away with the standards. She said parents of students in her district are frustrated. She said parents have been telling her that their kids “don’t get it, and I cant help them.”
Andy Scoggin, chairman of the Idaho Business for Education that represents more than 200 companies, said his organization had gone through the standards and fully supported them.
“As businesses seek to expand or relocate to Idaho, education is at the top of the list of concerns,” he told lawmakers.
Most of those who testified against the standards objected to content they said was part of the curriculum.
Sonja Harris, who is on the school board for the Blackfoot School District, read a graphic sex scene from a novel suggested in one of the curriculum possibilities her board was considering. When it was pointed out the board had an option not to choose that particular novel, Harris said the board was still under pressure to select a curriculum from a recommended provider.
Teachers who testified disagreed that any particular books were being forced on schools, and said districts had options when it came to selecting learning materials with the primary concern being that they helped students meet the standards.