In recent days, the Idaho State Department of Education has received calls and e-mails from some Idahoans expressing concerns about the new Idaho Core Standards, which were adopted after a state-led effort known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Unfortunately, they have heard myths about these new standards that have been perpetuated by national talk show hosts and national interest groups, but they are just that: myths. None of these statements are based in fact, yet they have continued to spread over the past two years.
In the interest of transparency, here is a list of myths we hear repeatedly in Idaho as well as other states, and the facts that dispel these myths.
Myth: The federal government has required Idaho to adopt Common Core State Standards.
Fact: The U.S. Department of Education has never dictated which standards a state has adopted, even under No Child Left Behind. The federal government has never reviewed a state’s standards, and they have not reviewed these standards. These standards were the result of a state-led effort. Idaho signed a Memorandum of Agreement with other states that clearly defines this as a state-led effort in which the federal government is not involved. This is evident in the fact that not every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards today. Each state reviewed these standards and made their own decision.
Myth: States must adopt the Common Core State Standards if they accepted federal stimulus funding, Race to the Top grants or received a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind.
Fact: No state has to adopt the Common Core State Standards. This was a state-led effort that is completely voluntary. The U.S. Department of Education has tried to incentivize states to raise their academic standards in core subject areas through Race to the Top grants and the federal waivers from No Child Left Behind. However, states like Virginia that have chosen not to adopt the Common Core State Standards still received a waiver. No requirement exists. This is completely voluntary for states. Idaho adopted these new standards because we believe they are the best path for Idaho students.
Myth: These standards will dumb down education in Idaho.
Fact: These standards are considerably higher than the previous standards Idaho had in place for mathematics and English language arts. The state has chosen to adopt these new standards because they are higher and more rigorous than Idaho’s previous standards. Our colleges and universities as well as the business community have told us that students who graduate with mastery in these standards will be prepared for the rigors of postsecondary and the workforce. This is something we have been working toward for years because today only 47 percent of Idaho’s high school graduates go on to postsecondary education and, of those, nearly half need to take remedial courses once they get there. In addition, these standards are comparable with the standards of any other country in the world. To see evidence of the difference in standards, you can look at the gap analysis Idaho conducted to compare our previous standards to these new standards or see what Idaho teachers and school administrators have to say about the standards.
Myth: Because Idaho adopted these new standards, it must upload student identifiable data into a national database, including details such as family income, family religious affiliation, and parent’s education level and biometric data (iris scans, DNA, and fingerprints) from students.
Fact: These are academic standards that set goals for what each student should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. These standards are in no way tied to the statewide longitudinal data system. Idaho implemented its statewide longitudinal data system back in 2009, two years before the state chose to adopt these new standards. Idaho’s statewide longitudinal data system is not tied to a national database in any way. Neither the state nor local school districts collect data on things like religious affiliation, nor do we have the technology to collect any biometric data from students or staff.
Myth: These new standards will require teachers to teach math in an “untested way.”
Fact: These standards are in line with the Idaho Math Initiative that Idaho implemented back in 2008. Research has shown that teachers who have taken the Mathematical Thinking for Instruction course through the Idaho Math Initiative and applied these methods in their classrooms see better student achievement results in mathematics. A primary reason Idaho chose to adopt these new standards is because they aligned well with what we were already doing in our schools. Through these new standards, Idaho students will learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills that we believe are important now and in the future.
Myth: These new standards will de-emphasize literature, like Huckleberry Finn, and historical texts, such as the Gettysburg Address.
Fact: These standards actually emphasize reading and writing skills across all subject areas, not just in English language arts classrooms. These new standards ensure students in public high schools receive a well-rounded education in learning both literary texts as well as informational texts. The business community in Idaho and across the country has told us that students need to be prepared to read, write and analyze informational texts before they graduate from high school. We know this is a critical skill in the workforce and have to make sure Idaho students are prepared to meet it. In addition, the standards include literacy standards for history and other subject areas to make sure historical texts are incorporated throughout a student’s education.
Myth: The adoption of these new standards will eliminate school choice options in public education.
Fact: These are academic standards that set goals for what each student should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. These standards are in no way tied to school choice options. Every public school, including schools of choice, will teach these new standards beginning next school year. Choice within public education is in fact alive and thriving in Idaho. Four new public charter schools are scheduled to open next school year to bring the total number of public charter schools in Idaho to 46. Idaho currently has 23 magnet schools or programs operating in the state along with 10 focus schools or programs. Many districts also offer alternative schools or academies as another choice. These are just a few examples of school choice in public education in Idaho.
Myth: These new standards were developed by private interest groups based in Washington, D.C.
Fact: The new standards were developed by states. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association are two state-led organizations that facilitated this state-led effort. The members of these organizations are state education chiefs, such as Superintendent Luna, and state governors, such as Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, respectively.
Myth: States are not allowed to change anything in the standards after they adopt them.
Fact: These are Idaho Core Standards, and Idaho is ultimately in control of these standards. Each state has the flexibility to add on to these standards if it sees fit. In addition, local school boards have the flexibility to add on to these standards at the local level as well.
Myth: This effort will lead to a national curriculum because standards drive curriculum.
Fact: In Idaho, the state sets academic standards, or the goals for what each child should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. The curriculum is set at the local level by locally elected school boards. This process will remain in place under the new standards. Local school districts and public charter schools will determine the best curriculum to help the teachers in their schools teach these new academic standards. Local school districts have asked the state to provide examples of curricular materials that are aligned with the new academic standards, and the state plans to provide examples to meet district requests. However, it remains up to each local school district to select curriculum, not the state or federal government.