Idaho’s version of the Common Core never quite fit. What’s next?

I was a first-year high school English teacher when my principal reached out with an unusual request: get a substitute, get with a few other teachers in my department and create some shareable coursework rooted in a new set of state content standards.

It was 2011, and those standards were the Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of the Common Core.

I don’t remember much about the two-day effort that followed, and I don’t remember why this newbie teacher played a part. But I do remember it felt important because the standards and the state test tied to them — the Idaho Standards Achievement Test — were a key metric for measuring learning outcomes in English and math.

But over 10 years later, the standards have never quite been able to fit in Idaho.

Some despised them from the get go — like my neighbor, who stopped me on the street to unload on them. I don’t remember much about our chat, but I do remember something he said about the feds, the Common Core and efforts to track our kids via DNA.

If that was was happening, I assured him, I missed it somewhere.

Fast-forward 11 years, and like my mentor teacher used to say, all things education repeat themselves. Last month, the Legislature settled a long-simmering standards debate, dumping the state’s decade-old English language arts and math standards, as well as science standards adopted in 2018.

With the stroke of the governor’s pen, K-12 schools will again have to realign coursework to a new set of state standards that have been in the making for years.

What fueled their recent change?

We’ll get there, but let’s start with what the standards are, and what they aren’t.

Think of learning standards as a set of guidelines that the state’s 310,000-plus K-12 students are expected to master as they advance though school. Creating coursework still happens at the local level, by local teachers. But the need to align that coursework with an overarching set of federally rooted standards never sat well with many Idahoans.

The controversy extended well past my time in the classroom. In 2017, I found myself in the middle of the standards debate from a new angle — this time as a reporter covering blowback after lawmakers deleted references to the human impact on the environment and climate change that were part of the state’s science standards.

In 2019, I helped cover mandatory State Board of Education hearings that stemmed from the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s successful circulation of petitions pushing to repeal the standards.

The conservative think-tank tied the standards to low student achievement and criticized their federal roots — issues that surfaced during a round of charged public hearings that followed.

In Idaho Falls, several teachers defended the standards, while several parents decried them.

“We’re turning out dummies, a YouTube generation,” said a local contractor, who insisted that some of his young workers couldn’t read a tape measure.

Idahoans gather during a 2019 hearing on the standards in Idaho Falls.

Volunteer committees of teachers, community members and lawmakers of both major parties went on to spend the last two summers reworking the standards under the State Department of Education’s direction.

A key emphasis in that effort: ditching actual and perceived connections between Idaho’s standards and the Common Core.

Yet despite the new batch of approved standards that have now cleared the Statehouse (and which are poised to kick in this summer), questions linger.

One is a price tag for the potential need to rework the current state test tied to the standards. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra recently put the figure at anywhere from “$10 million to upwards of $55 million” over three years.

Other questions revolve around how the state’s districts and charters will do what I found myself doing as a fledgling teacher over a decade ago: creating and reworking coursework and lesson plans to fit a new set of state standards.

EdNews plans to dive into these and other related issues in the coming weeks, and we’d love to hear from local educators about what lies ahead, and how they feel about it. Email me at [email protected] to chime in.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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