Idaho’s K-12 Science Standards were in the news again this week.

Despite overwhelming support from the public, teachers, business leaders and others, the Idaho House Education Committee has had the Science Standards in their cross-hairs for years. Thankfully, the State Department of Education, State Board of Education and the Senate Education Committee had all consistently supported approval of the standards, in full.

That’s why we were so confused when the State Department of Education responded to a letter from the House Education Committee and two members of the Senate Education Committee, and agreed with their recommendation to remove “Supporting Content,” which is a critical component of the standards. At their June 10 meeting, the State Board of Education followed this recommendation and removed all supporting content from the standards and suggested this was simply a “technical correction” that was allowed under Idaho’s rulemaking process.

According to a review by the Idaho Attorney General’s office, only minor technical corrections are permitted without reopening the standards for public comment and legislative review.

As a result, the State Board of Education reversed course at their August 26 meeting and restored the supporting content to the standards.

What’s the History with Science Standards?

As noted above, Science Standards have been closely scrutinized by the legislature in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.

The first time: Revised science standards were developed by a committee of esteemed and award-winning science educators way back in 2015. The State Board of Education submitted them for approval to the legislature in 2016. But, the Idaho Legislature rejected them, supposedly on concerns with the process. We heard the real reason was opposition to discussion of climate change, the solar system’s formation, the age of the Earth, and human impact on the environment.

The second time: The State Board persisted, re-approved the same standards and submitted them for another round of legislative review. In 2017, the House Education Committee took issue with five paragraphs related to climate change. The committee approved the other standards for one year and asked the State Department of Education to redo the five climate-related standards.

Statewide public meetings were held and more than 1,000 Idahoans stood up in support of sound science standards with information about climate change. Only five people opposed them. In response, the State Board made some minor changes and unanimously approved the standards for submission to the legislature.

The third time: In 2018, both House and Senate Education Committees considered Idaho’s science standards for the third consecutive year. The House voted to remove a standard regarding climate change and fossil fuels and all “Supporting Content.” The Senate Education Committee again refused to go along and approved the standards in full. Because both the House and Senate Committees were required to agree to the change, the rules went forward as written.

It meant that the new standards were finally adopted and ensure that our students would receive a robust science education…Or so we thought.

The next year, the 2019 legislature allowed all rules to expire because the House did not pass a bill that extends all existing permanent rules from one year to the next. As a result, the Science Standards, along with all other rules, were back before the Idaho Legislature in 2020.

The fourth time: At their hearing in 2020, the House Education Committee voted to completely repeal the Science Standards. Again, the Senate refused to comply and approved the standards again.  That means the Science Standards are in place. At the same time, they established a study committee to review the standards.

So what’s the current status?

Despite the fact that the Science Standards have been reviewed and upheld by the Idaho Legislature in nearly every session since 2016, they are still subject to a more formal review every 5 years. That review just got underway this summer and is expected to result in a new proposal for consideration during the 2022 legislative session. Unfortunately, in a letter from the State Superintendent of Schools Sherri Ybarra and State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield, it appears that there is a willingness to both strike the supporting content and water down standards that some legislators oppose. In fact, some of those same legislators are serving on the Science Standards Review Committee.

Why Is It Important?

If you care about a well-informed citizenry, which includes a solid educational foundation based on scientific principles, we encourage you to continue to support Idaho’s science standards.

Idaho is already losing out. According to recent data, 7,000 science-related jobs are going unfilled in Idaho because we don’t have the candidates to fill those positions. That hurts our economy and costs us millions.

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