Legislature braces for more ‘hot topic’ school standards debates in 2022

House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, chairs a March committee hearing.

A years-long debate over Idaho’s academic content standards is all but guaranteed to resurface when lawmakers meet for the 2022 session next week.

Unhappy that standards rewritten in math, science and English over the past two years have not removed administrative hurdles, the chairs of the House and Senate education committees are promising legislation to force the issue. But some education actors and policymakers continue to disagree that state standards — which outline the skills students should develop at each grade level — need to change.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, chairs the House Education Committee, where an inordinate share of the legislative standards debate has taken place. There, lawmakers debated how or whether students should learn about topics ranging from climate change to sex education, and they often argued against national common-core standards.

Although the legislature has no direct control over the content of state standards, legislators have relied on policymakers to shape what children learn by revising the set of expectations for K-12 schools. Clow hopes to kick off the discussion soon after the session begins on Monday to give stakeholders time to weigh in on the still contentious issue.

“Standards are always a hot topic,” Clow told EdNews by phone this week. “We spent a lot of energy talking about this stuff.”

It’s true. Clow and Senate Education Chairman Steven Thayn have twice written to Governor Brad Little, State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra and the State Board of Education, urging them to rewrite the standards. Co-signed by fellow Republicans on the Education Committees, the 2020 and 2021 letters sought to guide standard writing from the limited position of the Legislative Assembly; legislators can only reject, accept or partially accept the standards, but cannot directly modify or modify them.

Indirect pressure from Republican lawmakers worked, but not as much as they would like. Over the past two summers, volunteer committees of teachers, community members, and lawmakers from both major parties have reworked math, science, and English standards under the direction of the state Department of Education. . However, the newly drafted standards failed to gain the necessary approval to be forwarded to the Legislative Assembly. Some education officials and lawmakers blame the inaction of Little’s office or the State Board.

But pushing to approve the revised standards, if possible, is “still the game plan” for this session, said Thayn, R-Emmett.

Upcoming legislation

It’s unclear if or how the standards will change this session, but Clow is pushing to make sure they do.

He plans to bring back two bills he introduced in November: one to overturn existing standards in English, math and science, and another forcing the State Board to adopt the rewritten standards. Thayn said he supports both.

When introducing the bill, Clow said: ‘The point was to point out that, personally, I’m not happy. There are a lot of people who are not happy, but I am not happy that these rules have not evolved. »

The standards were not adopted because they lack a detailed tax memo explaining the costs of adopting new standards, State Board spokesman Mike Keckler told EdNews via email. But he deferred to the Financial Management Division to answer more specific questions, and the DFM had no comment. (Check back for updates.)

Thus, the position of some officials and groups is still unclear.

Little has not said publicly if he supports the rewritten standards. In an email Friday, spokeswoman Marissa Morrison Hyer said, “Governor Little looks forward to working with lawmakers, education stakeholders and the Board of Education on any necessary changes to standards and any credit required.” Hyer has yet to respond to questions from EdNews about whether Little opposes the rewrite or is spending taxpayer dollars to implement the proposed new standards.

A common enemy

Much of the Republican push to rework the standards stems from a larger backlash against Common Core and their perceived and real ties to the Idaho standards.

Although Idaho has its own standards, Clow traces some of their parts to Common Core. His initial letter to the executive was an attempt “to sever the close bond and connection with Common Core,” he said.

Thayn said the same was true for him and his fellow Republicans; he said he remained concerned about Common Core. “I don’t think anyone wants to be on the side of maintaining the common core in an election year.”

Republican lawmakers list a wide range of grievances with the standards — and some that have nothing to do with Idaho’s core standards, which only address math and English language arts. Some said the standards should be friendlier to industries such as mining and should promote American culture and exceptionalism, the Idaho Capital Sun reported. Others said science standards should emphasize the benefits of fossil fuel-based energy in classroom discussions about climate change. Some have taken issue with the attributed literature — which falls under the curriculum, which is not controlled by the state, but by school districts, not the state.

“Coherence and stability”

Competing grievances divide would-be reformers over how to proceed with revisions. But people are also divided on the need for change.

Garden City Democratic Rep. John McCrostie, like Thayn, was on one of the review panels that helped rewrite the standards. After two summers on the job, the high school music teacher said he was “still okay with the original standards we had.”

McCrostie is waiting to hear from education professionals during the session before making any harsh judgments on the rewritten standards, and he said the updates appear to have made the state standards more concise.

But Democrats’ reluctance to make changes is neither new nor unique.

“I’m tired of this standards debate,” Idaho Business for Education President Rod Gramer told EdNews in a podcast published Friday. “Let’s just put the standards in place. … Let the teachers do their job, and let’s run away from this madness, this madness around standards. And let English be taught. Let the math be taught. Let science teach itself.

“It’s absolutely mission critical to have practitioners at the table when you’re discussing standards,” the Idaho Education Association’s Matt Compton said on the same podcast. Compton did not comment specifically on the newly drafted standards.

To some extent, the discussion on standards needs to continue. State standards are supposed to be reviewed and renewed by the executive branch and the legislature every five years on a rotating cycle. That’s because they’re technically omnibus rules, which are temporary rules that the executive repeats over and over again, even if they don’t make any changes.

It may be long, but Clow hopes to change that system and, eventually, put the standards discussion to bed.

“We need to give some consistency and stability to our content standards – all of them – so schools don’t have to worry about what’s coming and going,” Clow said.

Blake Jones

About Blake Jones

Journalist Blake Jones covers the politics and politics of Idaho’s K-12 public school system. He is a lifelong Idaho native and holds degrees in creative writing and political economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]

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