A showdown on Common Core? Hearings could center on standards

Idahoans will get their say on Common Core later this month.

But it isn’t as simple as it sounds.

The State Board of Education has scheduled four public hearings on Idaho’s academic standards, starting Aug. 19. Here’s what you need to know ahead of time:

What’s on the agenda? The State Board’s “rules governing thoroughness.” The 37-page document — a “docket,” in legislative lexicon — spells out everything from high school graduation requirements to required student tests to school accountability measures. The rules also set out minimum state academic standards.

And that means Common Core? Yes and no. The 2011 Legislature adopted a version of Common Core, the Idaho Core Standards. The state has tweaked the standards along the way, and they’re still in effect. But if you’re looking for a standalone section titled “Idaho Core Standards,” you won’t find it. “We don’t technically have Common Core in the docket,” said Tracie Bent, the State Board’s chief planning and policy officer.

So, why the hearings? Public outcry. More than 750 people signed petitions circulated by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative watchdog group, the State Board said. There was about an even split between opponents who cited specific sections of the rule, and people with a generic opposition to Common Core. And Common Core criticisms can best be addressed through hearings on the far-reaching thoroughness rules, Bent said. “it’s really about giving people an opportunity to be heard.”

Either way, the board received so many requests for hearings that it was legally obligated to schedule them, said Alex Adams, administrator of the state’s Division of Financial Management. Adams is overseeing a wholesale revamping of Idaho’s administrative rules. (We’ll get back to this in a minute.)

So, this is all a response to backlash? Not exactly. All told, the State Board received about 1,200 comments on the thoroughness rules. While most commenters clamored for change, 425 Idahoans urged the State Board to stay the course on science standards, adopted in 2018 after a bruising, three-year Statehouse battle.

Why are we talking about Common Core now, eight years later? It all goes back to the end of the 2019 legislative session. Lawmakers typically adopt hundreds of pages of new agency rules every year, usually with little fanfare. But this year, the House and the Senate deadlocked over the process. When lawmakers left for the year with no agreement, they left 8,200 pages of agency rules in limbo. And not just new rules. Existing rules wound up on hold as well — such as academic standards, for example.

Where do things stand now? When school opens in the next few weeks, the thoroughness rule and the Idaho Core Standards will remain in place. That’s because Gov. Brad Little decided to reinstate this rule. It’s a “temporary and proposed rule,” in force until the 2020 session.

What happens next? After the hearings, the State Board makes the next move. Under state law, board members are required to fully consider public comments. Then the board will decide whether to endorse the current rule as is, or amend it.

Then what? Then it’s back to the Legislature. The rule goes back to lawmakers as a “pending rule.” Under the Legislature’s rulemaking process, the State Board language would pass if either the House or Senate education committee signs on. But the committees could also agree to delete sections of the rule, or agree to reject it entirely.

Is this a showdown on Common Core? Critics hope so.

Education, political and business leaders have backed the Idaho Core Standards for years. Then-Gov. Butch Otter’s K-12 task force endorsed Common Core in 2013, and lawmakers have never made a concerted push to change course. When lawmakers left rules in limbo this spring, they gave Little wide latitude to cut red tape; he left Common Core alone.

The Freedom Foundation has taken to call the State Board roadshow “Common Core repeal hearings.” The group says Common Core has flopped nationally, and hopes Idaho follows the example of other states that have ditched the standards. “We see this as an excellent opportunity to examine if the standards — regardless of their politically-palatable name — are working for Idaho students,” spokesman Dustin Hurst said. “We contend that they are not.”

In recent months, the foundation has taken a more forceful tack on education issues, challenging diversity and inclusion programs at Boise State University, criticizing proposals to rewrite the K-12 funding formula and suggesting Little’s new education task force will simply throw money at Idaho schools. In a February guest opinion, foundation President Wayne Hoffman questioned whether the state should fund an education system, constitutional requirements notwithstanding. “I don’t think government should be in the education business.”

When and where are the hearings?

Aug. 19: Nampa, College of Western Idaho, Academic Building, Room 102E.

Aug. 21: Twin Falls, College of Southern Idaho, Hepworth building, Room 108.

Aug. 22: Coeur d’Alene, North Idaho College, Student Union Building, Lake Coeur d’Alene room.

Aug. 27: Idaho Falls, College of Eastern Idaho, Health Education Building, Room 150/152.

All hearings run from 6 to 9:30 p.m. local time.

Can I submit written comments?

The board will take comments through Aug. 27. You can email them to Bent, or mail them to her at the Idaho State Board of Education, 650 W. State St., P.O. Box 83702, Boise, Idaho 83702-0037.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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