Several Republican legislators are already bristling at drafts of proposed academic standards that could go before the State Board of Education as early as next week.
The years-long standards debate intensified early in 2020 when the House Education Committee voted to repeal all academic standards in math, science and English before being overruled. Then, the House and Senate education committees sent a letter to the state calling for the replacement of Idaho Content Standards.
Members of a joint House-Senate academic standards interim committee met Wednesday to receive an update on the progress to rewrite standards in math, English language arts and science.
And they don’t seem pleased with progress on English or science, saying the subgroups working on the rewrites are making minor revisions instead of wholesale changes.
“I don’t know if strengthening the language rises to that standard of replacement,” said Rep. Gary Marshall, the Idaho Falls Republican who co-chairs the committee.
Several legislators provided anecdotes about reading or homework assignments that they heard complaints about. Marshall said he’s concerned for his 38 grandchildren. He was upset that a sophomore granddaughter spent a trimester reading “Things Fall Apart,” Chinua Achebe’s award-winning novel about Nigeria and colonialism.
Marshall said his granddaughter should be reading stories about American experiences and exceptionalism. He and Sen. Steven Thayn, an Emmett Republican who co-chairs the interim committee, said there is not enough time in the school year for “empty stories.”
“No other nation has done for liberty and freedom in the last 250 years what this nation has done,” Marshall said. “We’re missing that big time.”
Thayn, who appears in the running to become the next chairman of the Senate Education Committee, floated the idea of using state funding to write new textbooks specifically for Idaho.
“I don’t think we can rely on large textbooks that have empty curriculum,” Thayn said.
Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, also expressed concerns with the science standards. She was disappointed by the “university- and college-level folks” serving on the subcommittees that are writing the standards. Moon said she wants academic standards that are age-appropriate and uplifting. Moon stressed it’s important to keep politics out of the science standards.
Marshall said the State Board will consider drafts of the standards. So far, the State Board has not announced a meeting for next week.
Under the state’s timeline, any standards passed by the State Board would go before the Legislature during the 2022 session, not in 2021.
Still, Wednesday’s meeting might have offered a preview of what Idahoans can expect during the 2021 session that convenes Jan. 11. The meeting was a hybrid video teleconference, with many legislators attending in person and others joining remotely from their offices or another location. Members of the public could watch an online stream. At the Statehouse, the public could gather in a separate room from legislators to watch a live video feed. Members of the public who visited the Statehouse were encouraged but not required to wear a mask and maintain social distance.
The city of Boise itself has a mask mandate in place, but Gov. Brad Little has said the Legislature sets the rules for meetings and floor sessions inside the Statehouse.