The House Education Committee voted last week to reject and remove every word of every education standard in math, English and science for all K-12 grades. Every. Single. Word. Without a replacement. If this decision stands, the over 15,000 teachers charged with educating over 300,000 students will have no uniform standards to guide what is taught in classrooms throughout Idaho.
But wait, there’s more.
The House Education Committee also voted last week to remove all requirements for teacher certification throughout Idaho – every single requirement – without a replacement. If this decision stands, your children could be taught by people with no professional educator training.
I stood in strong opposition to these actions. It is beyond irresponsible to remove education standards and teaching certification requirements without replacing them with something better. The counter-argument was, “Oh, nothing will change – the State Department of Education (SDE) can simply reinstate the standards and certification criteria we’ve rejected.” I then asked during debate why take this action if nothing will change. The reply was, “We want to send a message to the SDE.”
But “sending a message” wasn’t the actual decision the committee was voting on. There was no motion to craft a carefully thought-out message to the SDE. There was no proposal as to how the standards and certification criteria should be changed for the better. There wasn’t even a bill to create a review committee. Our choice was this:
- Accept the current standards and certification criteria as they were last year
- Accept them with some exceptions
- Reject all of them
The committee chose Door #3. Why would presumably intelligent people choose to do something so reckless?
Using the words “Common Core” to politicize public education in Idaho
The truth is that the House Education Committee vote was not about standards. It wasn’t even about sending a message to the SDE. It appeared to be more about wanting to tell constituents that they voted to “get rid of Common Core” before the upcoming election.
The words “Common Core” have become a political catch-phrase to condemn anything one doesn’t like about public education in Idaho. Don’t like the test scores? Blame “Common Core.” Can’t help your child with their math homework? Blame “Common Core.” Don’t like a book on a suggested reading list? Blame “Common Core.”
I understand, respect and empathize with those who feel this way. One of the concerns I heard from voters at the door, especially a few years ago, was that they couldn’t help their child with their math homework. The Idaho Education Standards (which were derived from the Common Core initiative) were often blamed.
And there certainly were problems, including a poorly executed statewide rollout that did not adequately prepare teachers or inform parents of the changes being made. They were also introduced near the height of the recession while education funding was being cut.
But the problem was not the actual written standards themselves. Understanding the root cause of the problem requires reviewing a bit of history. During public testimony, former Superintendent Tom Luna reminded us that the legislature was told the new standards would raise classroom expectations one or two grade levels for each grade AND that test scores would initially go down before they would go up.
One critic argued that since test scores have not risen much since the standards were adopted, we should get rid of the standards. That’s like saying that if you’re late for an appointment, you should get rid of your car. There can be a lot of reasons for being late for an appointment. Similarly, there can be a lot of reasons for disappointing test scores, such as: higher expectations, inadequate preparation and teaching aids, exodus of experienced teachers, insufficient funding, and so on.
Simply blaming “Common Core” does nothing to identify the actual origin of the problem. There are three main components to the overall teaching experience: education standards, curriculum (which is both content and teaching methodologies), and assessment.
- If you don’t like the books on a reading list, that is a curriculum/content issue, not standards
- If your child doesn’t understand how to do math, that is a curriculum/methodology issue, not standards
- If you don’t like the type or amount of tests being administered, that is an assessment issue, not standards.
Not one person who testified before the committee, including the most ardent critics, identified a single page, paragraph, sentence or word of the math and English standards they objected to. And only two sentences among all the science standards were mentioned during testimony. However, every teacher that testified – the people actually responsible for teaching to the standards – implored the committee to approve the current standards as is.
Instead of trying to figure out the real source of the problem, the House Education Committee voted to simply remove all standards, such as: teaching multiplication, knowing the alphabet, understanding the solar system, along with everything else – and blamed “Common Core” repeatedly during the debate.
The politicizing of education furthers my resolve to be a voice for reason, critical thinking and common sense in the legislature.
The day after the vote, we learned that Idaho could lose over $250 million in federal funding for public education if the state did not have education standards in place. Oops.
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