Zombie Alert: The Content Standards haters are back!

An important commonality across the three sets of content standards [Math, English, Science] in the crosshairs of the haters on the House Education Committee and the Idaho Freedom Foundation is developing student ability to research, assess evidence, and construct evidenced based arguments. The extremists who envision eliminating these standards in their entirety would do well to stop embracing the next conspiracy theory and instead argue like adults.

Problem is when they do so, they got nothing. The Math and English standards first adopted in 2011 were subject to a petri dish of various conspiracy viruses, aided by stand out educators like Limbaugh and Beck, including but not limited to retinal scans, data mining, support for Wahhabism, brainwashing, deviant sexual practices, and support for Hillary Clinton and the deep state. In the end, they were blamed for everything from the common cold to why my cat won’t eat dry food.

They even went so far as to demand a review of these standards in 2015, two years earlier than the regular six-year cycle calls for to expose their villainy, no doubt.   This unfunded gambit by so called fiscal conservatives cost Idaho taxpayers $100,000.00.   When Idahoans by the thousands read the actual words of the standards on the online review platform, no doubt some were disappointed not to find sexual deviancy or data mining. But the vast majority, 85%, of the thousands of 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 behave in making important decisions regarding our students’ educational lives, not loving the next conspiracy theory like a crack addict loves her pipe.

How did we get here? It’s the fault of science.  This sorry, dishonorable episode began 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. This smear was to cover their desire to bury sections on human impacts and edit the standards to be compatible with Creationism, in violation of the US Constitution’s establishment clause. In 2018, they conveniently ignored public comment from statewide hearings that ran in favor of the language educators wrote 1000 to five. Where is their constituency? When they took a meat cleaver to the document that year 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 fit of rage 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.  As a result, all content standards are up for grabs.

This effort is reckless and ill-considered. Standards sit at the foundation of an integrated educational system upon which curriculum and instruction are built, as does the framing on a house. Finally, high quality assessments aligned to standards are like the building inspection showing where strengths and weaknesses lie in student learning, the most important aim being to improve instruction and student learning. Removing standards means students tested without an instructional mooring. This is nonsensical as well as unethical, and it violates Federal requirements. Furthermore, is damages the educational lives of Idaho student’s and  leaves educators in limbo.

Idaho citizens  have repeatedly supported the high expectations of deep conceptual understanding and command of numeracy and literacy and of scientific literacy and command of the scientific process that are reflected in these standards.  Content standards are not an academic exercise. They define a consistent expectation of excellence across our state, providing high expectation for all Idaho students regardless of their background.

More importantly they connect to our nations’ DNA, the double helix of freedom and equality, intertwined and running through our history. We are exceptional as a nation when we endeavor to live up to these high ideals. High expectation for all students is the first necessary but not sufficient step in creating a truly equitable educational system in our state, one that works for all students. I urge Idahoans to oppose the knee-jerk, meat cleaver approach to educational policy favored by extremist legislators and the always histrionic and chronically unhappy Idaho Freedom Foundation.


Scott Cook

Scott Cook

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

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