Statehouse roundup: 2.10.15

The simmering debate over Common Core provided a bit of the backdrop.

But ultimately, the House Education Committee voted unanimously to put together a legislative panel to examine student data collection — and perhaps data security.

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Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise

House Concurrent Resolution 3, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Luker, heads to the House floor for a vote.

If the resolution passes both houses — and the Legislature decides to put $10,000 into the idea — lawmakers would create an interim committee that would spend the off-season studying various questions about student data collection. The list includes:

  • What data is necessary to track academic progress?
  • What data should be student-level, personally identifiable information, and why?
  • How much federal funding hinges on collecting student data and reporting it to the federal government?
  • What are the costs and benefits of refusing to collect data to preserve student privacy — even if the state loses federal funding in the process?

The 2014 Legislature passed a data security law, but Luker said lawmakers need to know more about student data collection. Idaho’s student longitudinal data system collects 566 different data points — and even Luker said he isn’t sure why the state collects all the information.

Public testimony was one-sided, and made up largely of critics of Common Core standards — and the new statewide assessments aligned to the math and English language arts standards.

Stephanie Zimmerman
Stephanie Zimmerman

Parent Stephanie Zimmerman asked whether the committee is willing to “prostitute” the data Idaho collects, just to receive federal dollars. And Zimmerman, an outspoken opponent of the Idaho Core Standards, suggested the committee has ignored public concerns about the standards and the tests designed to measure student growth against the standards. “You’ve done a lot of listening to one side of this story.“

Luker didn’t address the Common Core debate in either his opening or closing remarks, and said the interim committee would simply fulfill a fact-finding role.

“This resolution does not decide anything,” he said.

In other Statehouse education news:

Early learning outreach. More than 100 education and children’s advocates packed the Statehouse for the first early learning legislative day.

Representatives from Idaho Association for the Education of Young People, Idaho Head Start Association and Idaho Voices for Children advocated and educated lawmakers about early learning.

Beth Oppenheimer Photograph
Beth Oppenheimer

“We don’t have a state coordinated system that focuses on early learning,” IAEYC Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer said. “We’re only able to reach a small percentage of children and I think we’re seeing that because half of our children are entering school not prepared to learn.”

The groups presented before both the House and Senate education committees Tuesday – and packed both rooms in the process.

The early learning legislative day coincided with the release of a new Idaho Voices for Children report, “Building Strong Foundations,” which found that only about 54 percent of Idaho kindergarten students enter school ready to learn.

Oppenheimer and others shared Census and demographic data with lawmakers in an attempt to educate them about families and children’s access to preschool and child care.

Oppenheimer told lawmakers that up to half of the state’s children need access to learning outside of the home because both parents work.

She also testified that Idaho is one of six states not to invest in a state-run pre-K program. There are about 700 licensed child care centers in Idaho, but Oppenheimer said standards are inconsistent and program costs can average more than $6,300 for a 4-year-old.

“Unfortunately, many children right here in own community don’t have the advantage of growing up in a healthy and stimulating environment,” Oppenheimer said.

Early learning advocates called on lawmakers to craft an Idaho solution and invest in programs that benefit young children.

“We know parents are children’s first and most influential teachers,” Oppenheimer said. “But due to the demands of work and providing for their family… these parents need access to high-quality early learning environments.”

Mastery-based learning. Rep. Steven Harris says it will be a “huge list” to abandon an approach that advance students from grade to grade, based just on seat time.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

But he’d like to see the state get started — by spending $400,000 on experimenting with mastery-based learning, which promotes students based on their command of a subject.

Harris’ bill would establish 20 “incubator” school districts and charter schools to use the mastery-based model. The bill would also establish a committee of educators to study the concept, and roadblocks to a mastery system. The bill would also call for a statewide public awareness campaign promoting master-based learning.

In 2013, Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force recommended a shift to mastery-based learning — one of 20 recommended reforms.

House Education voted to introduce Harris’ bill on a unanimous voice vote. It will likely come back to the committee for a full hearing later in the session.

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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