The crowd at a public hearing in Idaho Falls recently was divided on whether Idaho’s version of Common Core standards are a good thing for the state, although a majority favored keeping them.
“In their current form, the standards provide clear outcomes for each grade level,” said Chuck Orr, curriculum director at Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25.
Orr said any individually controversial standards should be addressed individually, but that the standards as a whole are good and should be kept.
“We have found the increased rigor of the standards to be beneficial to our learners,” he said.
Karey Hanks, a former Republican House member from St. Anthony and a Common Core opponent, said the standards have led to content that is harder for parents to understand, so they can’t help their children with their homework. She also said they have led to teacher burnout.
“Teaching used to be a calling,” she said to the crowd of 100 or so people at the College of Eastern Idaho. “Common Core has reduced it to something that soon will be able to be done by robots and computers.”
The hearing was the last of four held throughout the state on the Idaho Content Standards, the state’s version of the Common Core standards most states have adopted. The hearings were scheduled after about 1,000 people signed a petition from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which opposes Common Core, to hold the hearing.
Common Core has been a politically divisive issue. Several Democratic lawmakers came out with an op-ed Tuesday backing the standards and many Idaho Republicans also support them. They were implemented by a Republican governor, Legislature and superintendent of public instruction. However, many in the Idaho GOP’s more conservative wing oppose them.
Idaho adopted the standards a decade ago. Now, however, the state administrative rules establishing the standards — and the rest of the state’s administrative rules — are up for review during the 2020 legislative session and must be re-approved.
Due to a disagreement between House and Senate Republicans over whether to change the rule-making process, lawmakers left Boise this year without passing a bill codifying the state’s rules for another year. As a result, all of them expired on June 30. Gov. Brad Little unilaterally cut some of them and left the rest, including the core standards, in place as temporary rules lawmakers will review during the next session.
Twenty-five people testified in favor of the standards, many of them current or former teachers, although a few of them did criticize the state’s standardized tests. Eighteen testified against them and two expressed more mixed views.
Ron Nate, a former Republican House member from Rexburg who unsuccessfully sponsored several bills to roll back the standards, said they haven’t led to any improvements in Idaho student achievement.
“Common Core had had nine years to prove itself, and it has failed,” he said
Some teachers said Common Core provides a useful framework for new teachers. Others said Common Core opponents conflate the standards themselves with curriculum or instructional practices.
“My first-graders right now are thinking and doing more things than I would have ever thought possible,” said Idaho Falls School District 91 teacher Michelle Stratton.
Madison School District teacher Dawn Anderson said she had mixed feelings about Common Core and criticized the testing in particular. However, she said the state should keep Common Core. She said there is value in having standards similar to those in other states.
“These are not crazy U.N.-funded ideas, people,” she said. “These are standards to get your kids into college. They are research-based.”
Several people said underfunding of education and undervaluing of teachers are the real problem with education in Idaho.
“I think sometimes the legislators don’t really value education that much,” said Gerald Jayne, a Bonneville County resident who taught briefly decades ago. “That’s a radical thing to say, but I’ve come to that conclusion after watching them for many years.”
However, not everyone who is involved in education supported the standards. Sonya Harris, a former special education teacher and a school trustee in Blackfoot, said the standards require students with severe disabilities to do far more than they are capable of and cause problems for teachers.
“All of them are highly frustrated with the current testing requirements,” she said.