In Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, Hamlet agonizes over the question, “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”
That is the question I have struggled with as I’ve watched our elected representatives disregard their solemn constitutional oath “to establish and maintain a uniform and thorough system of education” in Idaho. In my 20 years as an Idaho educator, my commitment has always been to strive to do what’s best for kids, which means that I cannot watch the reckless dismantlement of the rules that establish our uniform and thorough system of education without voicing my concerns.
As a parent and as an educator, I support the current Idaho Content standards. I have listened to concerns from other parents and citizens about the standards but have rarely, if ever, heard opposition to an actual standard. Instead, arguments have focused on how the standards originated, or the impact of standardized testing on students, or mistaken perceptions about our lack of improvement on standardized test scores.
It is imperative to understand that abandoning our content standards is both academically and fiscally irresponsible.
In their short-sighted decision, the House Education Committee not only ignored the pleas of Idaho educators to retain the standards but also the fact that student outcomes on the ISAT have improved each of the past two years, a testament to the fact that teachers are improving their efficacy in helping students to higher levels of thinking and deeper levels of understanding than ever before. The standards adopted by the Legislature nine years ago began a tectonic shift in our expectations for student learning. If we want to continue to improve learning outcomes for Idaho students, we must have the courage and commitment to stay the course.
Unfortunately, in Idaho, we have rarely had that kind of patience. In the past two decades, teachers have seen local standards replaced by state standards, which were in turn replaced by national standards, which are now at risk of being eradicated. Teachers implemented the first Idaho achievement test, which was replaced a few years later, only to be replaced again with the Smarter Balanced assessment. State assessments for early literacy, English language acquisition and college placement have all changed. We will never realize higher student achievement until we commit to identifying the most important outcomes for students, selecting the right assessments to measure those outcomes and focusing our resources to attain them. If we continue to change course with every shift in the political winds, we will never see the improvements that we want for Idaho schools.
Abandoning the standards would also be fiscally irresponsible. In Bonneville School District, we will invest over $1.5 million this year alone to support teachers’ efforts to improve their efficacy in teaching these standards. Teachers have worked tirelessly to implement these standards since their adoption, representing an investment of more than $10 million in professional learning. If we were to include the hours of instruction as well, the investment of taxpayer dollars would be over $170 million in our district alone. If we change course now, all of the professional knowledge that we have invested in our teachers goes with it, an epic waste of our precious tax dollars.
The lesson of Hamlet is the failure to act on our convictions has tragic consequences. For the sake of our students, I’m grateful that Senators Mortimer and Lentz, as well as the other members of the Education Committee, voted to approve the standards. Doing so will not only allow schools to continue the progress that we have made, but also met their constitutional responsibility to maintain a uniform and thorough system of schools