Idaho Lawmakers Mull Fate of State’s Common Core Standards

Published May 1, 2020

As the national debate over Common Core curriculum standards continues, Idaho lawmakers and education officials are considering the future of the state’s version of the program.

The House Education Committee rejected the Idaho Content Standards for the 2020-2021 school year in math, science, and English, on February 5.

Idaho state Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley), a member of the Education Committee, says her constituents are frustrated with the program because it hasn’t delivered for their children.

“Common Core in Idaho has been a 10-year failed experiment, and our students deserve better,” Moon said.

“Ten members of the House Education Committee voted to reject the English Language Arts, Math, and Science Standards,” Moon said. “After all of the testimony in committee and the pleas of constituents, a vote to reject Common Core was the right thing to do.”

Committees Take Conflicting Actions

Idaho’s Senate Education Committee approved all the content standards, and all its teacher preparation and certification standards, in a unanimous voice vote on February 12.

The full Senate also passed a resolution introduced by Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer (R-Idaho Falls) calling for an interim legislative committee to begin the process of developing new school standards, on February 12.

The two committees agreed to send a letter to the governor and state education agencies proposing to formulate a replacement for the standards to be considered by the Idaho State Legislature when it meets next. There was no further action before the legislature adjourned in March.

‘Scrapping These Standards’

Legislators should reject standards based on Common Core, says Teresa Mull, an education writer and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.

“Idaho lawmakers would do children, teachers, parents, and, indeed, their fellow citizens as a whole, a huge favor by scrapping these standards,” Mull said. “Common Core and the similar standards produced in its wake have been a disaster, like so many programs created behind the closed doors of government bureaucrats.

“Common Core has been in place for far too long as it is, and it’s high time Idaho and other states that still have these standards in place replace them with something that will benefit the poor students who have endured them for too long already,” said Mull.

Disappointing Results

Introduced in 2009 by a bipartisan group of governors, education experts, and philanthropists, the Common Core Standards Initiative aimed at improving the performance of students through the adoption of a uniform set of standards. Universal goals were set for mathematics and English (notably reading) and, actively supported by the Obama administration’s then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the National Governors Association, Common Core was initially adopted by more than 40 states.

With Common Core in effect in most states in various guises for more than a decade, the results have been less than what its proponents promised. The 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed U.S. students made no statistically significant improvements since 2000 and have improved in overall global rankings only because some other countries have declined.

There have been a few improvements in certain areas in some states. Reading levels among fourth graders in Mississippi, for example, have risen by 10 percent since 2013, and PISA reading scores are now on par with the national average. Scores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, on the other hand, have declined.

Teachers and education officials in charge of Idaho’s 300,000 schoolchildren appear split over whether to continue with the Idaho Content Standards. Although teachers testifying at hearings before the House Education Committee in January said they wanted to keep the program, some lawmakers, citing complaints from disappointed parents, say they support doing away with the program.

Common Core ‘A Nightmare’

The standards are inflexible, making them difficult to use, says Idaho state Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale).

“Common Core is an entire package, as everything aligns with the standards: curriculum, teacher professional development, textbooks, [and] testing—the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium, or SBAC,” Boyle said. “All are copyrighted, and states are only allowed to change up to 15 percent. It has been such a nightmare for teachers, administrators, and, most of all, the students.”

Coming up with new state standards will require a large amount of work, says Boyle.

“We still have a huge job before us, to either borrow another conservative state’s standards or attempt to write our own, find textbooks, various curricula, teacher professional development without Common Core being entwined—and accomplish this as quickly as possible,” Boyle said.

“Every year we delay is another year our children are harmed by something which was never piloted nor internationally benchmarked,” Boyle said. “Instead, it made Bill Gates and the Pearson Company very rich by convincing the governors and state superintendents to throw out all their tried-and-true methods for a new and shiny object.”

Boyle says she hopes Idaho will have some good examples to follow in creating new standards.

“I am hopeful that Florida’s new Common Core-free standards will be available soon, along with other states’ efforts which have erased Common Core from their schools,” Boyle said. “Idaho can finally return to commonsense, age-appropriate learning.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy Research.