Is Idaho bound for a Common Core war?

A Statesman survey shows division in legislative committees that could decide the fate of the new education standards

broberts@idahostatesman.comDecember 4, 2013 


Physical education teacher Chad Schabot works with third-grader Chrissy Clark on reading skills in the hallway at Chief Joseph School of Art in Meridian. The school’s curriculum is based on meeting the Common Core standards.



    Common Core is a set of standards for what students should learn in public school. It is being adopted in 45 states. Core standards emphasize critical thinking and delving deeply into subject areas.

    Idaho Core Standards are the state's version of those standards. They were put in place in the state's public school classrooms this school year, covering language arts and science.

    Some states, such as Indiana and Michigan, have backtracked on the core standards after residents complained that they are an intrusion on local control. No state has yet dropped the standards.


    The Statesman contacted members of the House and Senate education committees to see where they stand on the standards now in place in Idaho's public schools. The committee could be asked in 2014 to vote on plans to reject or pull back on the standards.


    Reed DeMordaunt, chair, R-Eagle: For/leaning for

    Lucinda Agidius, R-Moscow: For/leaning for

    Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls; Undecided

    Judy Boyle, R- Midvale: Against/leaning against

    Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls: Could not be reached

    Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly: Undecided

    Steven Harris, R-Meridian: Undecided

    Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls: For/leaning for

    Hy Kloc, D- Boise: For/leaning for

    Ron Mendive, R- Coeur d'Alene: Against/leaning against

    Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home: Could not be reached

    Donna Pence, D-Gooding: For/leaning for

    Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins: Against/leaning against

    Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree: For/leaning for

    Janie Ward-Engleking, D-Boise: For/leaning for

    Richard Wills, R-Glenns Ferry: Undecided


    John Goedde, chair, R-Coeur d'Alene: For/leaning for

    Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise: For/leaning for

    Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian: Against/leaning against

    Dean Mortimer, R-Twin Falls: For/leaning for

    Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene: Could not be reached

    Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls: For/leaning for

    Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth: Against/leaning against

    Steven Thayn, R-Emmett: Against/leaning against


    Join Gov. Butch Otter and members of his task force for improving education on a live web chat at 11 a.m. Dec. 5 at Other panelists will be State Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, House Education Committee chairman; Linda Clark, Meridian School District superintendent; and Mike Lanza, a Boise parent. They will be taking your questions.

CORRECTION: Rep. Steve Harris, R-Meridian, should have been listed as "undecided" on Common Core.

Leaders of the House and Senate education committees are bracing for a backlash over the state's new public school standards and testing system.

And some of the harshest criticism could come from their own members.

So far, a count by the Statesman shows, Common Core could survive a challenge. The Statesman found eight members in support, three opposed and three undecided in the House Education committee. Two members could not be reached.

The Senate committee is closer: four are in favor and three opposed; one senator couldn't be reached.

The Legislature easily supported Common Core State Standards as the template for beefing up education in 2011. The standards, which emphasize critical thinking over memorizing dates and formulas, took effect in Idaho classrooms this school year.

But legislators will return in January after a summer and fall of hearing from Idahoans who berated the standards, curled their lips at Idaho lining up with other states to decide what children should learn, and wrung their hands over what they consider an erosion of state and local education control.

State Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, House Education Committee chairman and a supporter of Idaho's standards, plans to meet the criticism head on. In the opening days of the Legislature, he said, he'll ask the public to submit questions and concerns, and then he'll convene a panel - which could include the Department of Education, teachers and other educators - to address them in a public session.

"There is not going to be an attempt to hide anything," DeMordaunt said. "I think we need to have a forum so people's questions can be addressed and the bogeymen that are concerning to people can be exposed, if they really are there."


Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R- Coeur d'Alene, wrote a letter with DeMordaunt to lawmakers last month supporting Idaho Core Standards. He said there is room for discussion, but he warned that he may balk at attempts to throw out the standards by using his perogative to decline to hold hearings on such a proposal.

"I feel strongly enough about sustaining Idaho's standards that I would consider that, yes," Goedde told the Statesman. Attempts to rescind the rules or pass a law rolling back Common Core likely would require approval by both committees and both chambers.

Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill said he would not try to stop Goedde from blocking a proposal to derail Idaho Core Standards.

"He is very much in favor of (them)," said Hill, R-Rexburg.

But Hill supports the idea for a town hall meeting to address critics, who worry the standards are a federal intrusion into state education policy, a criticism that backers such as state schools chief Tom Luna have long disputed.


Idaho Core Standards passed the Legislature long before the opposition took hold last spring, as critical parents and others lined up to try to poke holes in the system before Gov. Butch Otter's Task Force for Improving Education.

Opponents warned that the math standards taught communism, that a state data system would collect biometric and religious information on kids for the feds, and that creating a system of national standards was really a ruse to line up all schools to buy equipment from technology companies.

State education officials say none of that is true, and Otter's task force endorsed the Idaho Core Standards with just one dissenting vote from its 31 members.

As Common Core criticism has grown, business organizations, Micron Technology, chambers of commerce, school districts, and colleges and universities have come out in support of the standards as a way to raise the bar and reduce the amount of remediation that high school graduates need to succeed in college.


Even supporters worry that the state didn't do enough to include Idahoans in the discussion about the standards.

"We should have explained it better," said State Sen Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls. "I think Common Core is a good deal."

There are plenty of detractors, such as Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins. He initially voted for the Idaho Core Standards, but said he did not realize it was tied to what he sees as a national plan with 45 states backing the same standards.

"I would like to see us back off," Shepherd said. "I like states' rights."

For some critics, nothing less than ending Idaho Core Standards will do.

State. Rep. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, likens Common Core to the Affordable Care Act, which he considers a wasteful federal mandate. He thinks Common Core standards are too narrow and require too much testing.

At a recent meeting of Washington County Republicans, he apologized for the standards and said that he would take steps to get rid of them.

Pearce, absent the day the Senate Education Committee voted on the rules in 2011, said he would have voted against them. He sums up his constituents' concerns in two sentences: "They don't want it. They don't like it."

He's not ready to say what effort he'll make in January, but he does believe that the federal government has a role in standards, despite those who say otherwise.

"The feds lay out the hook, bait it with money, we take it and scream and cry," he said.


Senate committee member Russ Fulcher, who last month announced his Republican candidacy for governor against Otter, originally supported the standards.

But the Meridian lawmaker said he's rethought his position. Opposition to Common Core is the second-largest complaint he hears, he said, after criticism about the health care law and the state's exchange.

Fulcher said that even though districts retain control of what will be taught to help students meet standards, the testing that goes with it could morph the curriculum into one that is indistinguishable from those in other states.

He anticipates several actions by the Legislature. One would involve teachers and parents more in curriculum, as a means to keep it as local as possible. Another would clamp down on student data leaving the state - a proposal Goedde already is working on.

Passage of those bills "will go a long way" toward making Idaho Core Standards palatable, Fulcher said.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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