BOISE, Idaho — New legislation hopes to bring closure to a multiyear push from Idaho lawmakers to revise the state's education content standards.
Initially, the Gem State only implemented math and English language arts standards. Since then, lawmakers have expanded the criteria to include concepts like science, humanities and physical education. According to the State Department of Education, the standards are "a minimum threshold" that public school students must meet to graduate. While each school district chooses its curriculum — how standards are taught — they must meet the baseline expectations.
Still, the standards are not universally supported by Idaho lawmakers. In just the last two years, legislators have adamantly pushed to remove and modify the content standards.
Following the House Education Committee's repeal of the criteria, lawmakers have launched several bicameral initiatives taking a red pen to unfavorable guidelines. The efforts led to lawmakers sending the State Board of Education a list of recommendations for new content standards in 2020.
"Over the last two years, this committee and the senate (have) reviewed those standards and come up with what we believe are better Idaho standards, and replace the standards that would be rejected in the resolution," Clow said this week.
However, the SBOE has not adopted or attempted to revamp the standards since — leading House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Lance Clow to bring forward two new pieces of legislation this session.
The two-part legislation includes:
- A bill that would direct the SBOE to adopt or incorporate the legislature's recommended standards drafted in 2020 and 2021
- A concurrent resolution that would nullify the current standards in English language arts, math and science
If passed, the legislation would go into effect on July 1. According to online copies of Clow's legislation, school districts would have until 2024 to implement a new curriculum aligned with the updated standards.
The House Education Committee is expected to discuss the legislation in a full public hearing sometime this month.
Part of the debate over the Idaho Content Standards is that lawmakers believe it is "unbalanced," too complex, or influenced by "politicized" topics. Frequently, legislators have criticized math standards because parents say they cannot help their children with homework.
"One of the problems with the Common Core standards, in my opinion, isn't so much the standards themselves," Clow said. "(It is) the methodology and the assumption about how they're used."
In committee, Clow said he has heard from parents who see their children attempting to solve math problems using various new methods that inspire more confusion than success. Clow believes that students would be more perceptive to "the old algorithm methods" instead.
"Common Core says you need to teach kids all these methods, which causes them to spend a lot of time learning how to do different forms of division," he said. "If they master one quickly, let them move on. In a test, they should be required to show all the different methods."
Democratic Rep. Steve Birch from Boise has repeatedly expressed concerns about repealing the standards. In a meeting, he pointed out that the legislature needs to ensure new standards are already in place before removing past drafts — otherwise, it could impact Idaho's federal education funding.
"My concern is, if one of these passes and the other doesn't pass the legislature, then all we have is the rejection of everything," Birch said. "I just can't bring myself to support rejecting all standards, which if it were the only piece of legislation that passed the body, I think would be a real disservice to the state."
Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt from Idaho Falls, who has participated in the standard repeal process for nearly three years, said action is necessary.
"We've pushed forward with an understanding that there needed to be changed," she said. "I think it's important that those in the audience understand this is what we hear over and over from our constituents. This is not something that we enter into lightly."
However, Democratic Rep. Sally Toone from Gooding said she has heard from several educators that changing the standards would force districts to implement the new, unfamiliar curriculum.
"I have heard from some educators, I've talked with my superintendent, and they're very concerned," she said. "A lot of these teachers have put in hours and hours of time getting their curriculum ready."