Unreasonable actions taken by the House Education Committee

Unhinged, rabid, and hurtling forward without restraint, the House Education Committee on February 5 completely erased three major subject matter content standards in Math, English/literacy, and Science. This action is a clear and present danger to the educational lives of all Idaho students. Standards describe what students should be able to do and what they should know at each grade level, providing a consistent high level of expectation across the state, though school districts have local control to go above and beyond state standards.

Apparently these extremist legislators see themselves as royalty as they have overridden the clear support Idaho citizens have consistently provided these standards that are carefully designed to develop students ready for career or college.  Further, they have preempted the careful, prudent review process laid out in Idaho Code, which calls for a review every six years that includes public comment periods and reviews by teams of expert educators and diverse stakeholders.

Consider the overwhelming support these standards have garnered in statewide public hearings and online comment applications. When opponents of the standards demanded a review of Math and English/literacy standards in 2015, two years earlier than the regular six-year cycle calls for, Idahoans by the thousands read the standards on the online review platform and 85 percent of the comments on individual standards were positive. Following the comment period, a diverse group of Idahoans including business leaders, teachers, parents, and administrators met In December of 2015 to review all actionable comments. https://www.sde.idaho.gov/topics/idaho-challenge/ In the end, a handful of changes were recommended and adopted by the Legislature. This prudent, thorough, and judicious process is how adults should behave in making important decisions regarding our students’ educational lives, not making monumentally rash reactionary.

Likewise, support for the Science Content Standards has been overwhelming.  In 2016, when the House Education Committee rejected the standards without comment, except to claim falsely that the review process was not followed by the State Department of Education, they demanded another round of public comment sessions. When comments from those statewide meetings ran 400 to 17 in favor of the language written by teachers, they ignored this and cleansed the document of references to human caused climate change.  Then they asked for another year of public hearings. These hearings ran in favor of the language educators wrote 1000 to five. They paid no heed. When they butchered the document that year by removing all supporting content in order to eliminate a few sections on climate change, the Senate Education Committee in a bipartisan vote restored the whole set of standards. As a result, in a tantrum in 2019 the house refused to reauthorize all Idaho Code, effectively shutting down the government. They took their ball, went home, and burned the court down. This intransigence is why all content standards are now up for grabs.

This action cuts teachers off at the knees as standards define learning expectations and form the foundation of curriculum, instruction and assessment, leaving students floundering in a boat without a rudder. And don’t forget, Idaho is required to have rigorous standards and to test in grades 3-8 and once at high school in Math and English/literacy and in three grade spans in Science. This is impossible without standards in place. The result of not testing? Not knowing where students are and where instruction needs to be refined to better meet their needs. Then there is the small matter of the gaping holes in school district budgets, 10-20 percent depending upon student demographics,  that would result from the loss of all federal funds.

These legislators who would be king have repeatedly disrespected the teams of fine Idaho educators who have written these standards over many years. They have damaged the educational lives of Idaho students by creating uncertainty about learning expectations year after year.  Arrogantly, they have dismissed the overwhelming support these standards have received by Idaho citizens. Who do they think they work for anyway?  Enough. Idahoans should call on the Senate Education Committee to be the adults in the room and reverse this rash decision and restore the thoughtful, deliberate process we have established for reviewing and approving learning expectations for Idaho children.

Scott Cook

About Scott Cook

Scott Cook is a former director of academics at the State Department of Education.

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