The optics behind the State Board of Education’s super-quiet decision late last month to reapprove Common Core education standards should not sit well with Idahoans. Residents petitioned the board for hearings on Common Core; five hearings were held across the state. Two days before Thanksgiving, the board reapproved the standards without so much as a mention of the issue, the hearings, or the concerns that Idahoans raised at them.
Indeed, board members spent no more than two minutes going over a panoply of rules they were about to reauthorize, including Common Core. That brief overview did not mention the education standards controversy, let alone fairly consider the objections that led hundreds of Idahoans to petition the board for hearings on the matter. I would have expected someone to say, “Remember how we held public hearings across the state to discuss Common Core? Here’s what we learned during that process. Here’s what parents and teachers had to say.” In my fantasy board meeting, that introduction would have been followed by some banter or maybe even a robust discussion, with board members going on the record to support or oppose a major decision affecting every public school child in the state.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, the appearance, warranted or not, is that the board isn’t very interested in what the public has to say.
This verdict is not helped by a troublesome memo to State Board of Education members. In the memo, the board’s staff mischaracterized and understated the concerns and objections that Idahoans voiced over the summer. “The comments against the standards ranged from comments about indoctrination, United Nation conspiracies, and accusations of indoctrinating students to become ‘liberal’ or change their sexual orientation,” summarized Tracie Bent, the board’s policy chief.
That statement was seemingly designed to portray objectors as wearers of tinfoil hats. Not included in Bent’s summary were comments that evidence increasingly shows that the standards aren’t delivering the results that were promised when they were adopted almost a decade ago. Indeed, other states have abandoned the standards because of academic underperformance.
The original memo presented to the board also contained a gross inaccuracy, telling the board that all 12 people who spoke a public hearing in Challis supported the education standards. In fact, all the participants at the Challis meeting spoke in opposition to Common Core, a fact that Rep. Dorothy Moon pointed out, prompting the SBOE to update its memo this week, correcting what the agency chalked up to a typo. Nonetheless, the error made it seem that most people speaking at the hearings supported Common Core. In fact, the corrected version shows the opposite is true: Most of the speakers at the public hearings held across Idaho voiced serious objections to Common Core.
Time after time, Common Core manages to escape the arduous critique it deserves. It’s a fact that in the time since it has been passed and implemented, neither the full Senate nor the full House has ever held a debate on its merits. And now, yet again, the issue escaped the serious discussion it deserved in front of the State Board of Education. If Common Core is such a good education policy, why don't public officials at the Legislature or State Board have a full, open, and meaningful discussion about whether Idaho should continue to use it?
Fortunately, state lawmakers will get one more chance to weigh in on the issue when they convene in January. Maybe this time, they will give Common Core the proper vetting it deserves — the review that the education board should have provided but didn’t.