by Senator Josh Brecheen
June 15, 2014
As the Senate author of HB3399, which repeals Common Core, this is my fourth column due to the complexities of this issue. The first column discussed the history of how the Oklahoma Legislature adopted Common Core (prior to many of us taking office) and the difficulties of our repeal attempt this session. The second column discussed the problems with the Common Core standards themselves, which aren’t superior standards as some claim. The third column discussed the Common Core aligned content that parents should be made aware of; and this column will discuss the federal ties to Common Core. Additionally, our interview with Glenn Beck can be viewed at www.youtube.com and covers many important points not included in this column.
HB3399 provides a safeguard against federal intrusion over Oklahoma’s academic standards and assessment decisions. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says that all powers not delegated to the U.S. by the Constitution are reserved to the states or the people. Education was never meant to be federally-controlled given the Founding Fathers’ desire that states experiment and decide how best to address certain issues on their own. With total federal control and uniformity, states would find themselves with unmanageable laws and without any immediate recourse to modify those laws. This would leave only an act of Congress to correct problems, meaning years lost in debate before a solution was found. The closer government is to you the more influence you have and that’s why the 10th Amendment matters! Most supporters of Common Core claim the accusation of federal overreach is a “conspiracy theory” and believe the initiative was “state-led”. Common Core was NOT state-led and definitely not Oklahoma-led! Like other cash-strapped states who desperately needed funds, Oklahoma and others plunged headlong into the grand experiment of Common Core for one reason…a greater chance at securing a portion of the $5 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funds.
President Obama stated this fact in his 2013 State of the Union Address: “Four years ago, we started Race to the Top, a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards”. In other words, states were baited into allowing a federal takeover of their educational standards for untested standards. In the spring of 2010, the Oklahoma legislature agreed to accept the Common Core standards and by law agreed they couldn’t change the standards at all, but could add 15 percent to them (which no state would do given the federal government then allocating $300 million in stimulus funds to develop model tests that would assess states on the template standards).
For states like Oklahoma that adopted Common Core but then weren’t awarded Race to the Top federal funds, our state education department took us one step further by applying for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver. This was done under the federal government’s promise of more flexibility but what we got was more federal control. Maintaining the waiver has since been used to scare states into maintaining compliance in more areas than just Common Core. Oklahoma’s waiver hinges on the 2011 model of the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA), A-F report card system (A-F), Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation system (TLE), and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) graduation requirements WITHOUT ANY CHANGES or we risk losing the waiver.
During my votes and support of warding off the quantitative side of TLE (where class scores would impact a teacher’s evaluation) and co-authoring the RSA modification bill this session (to allow more parental involvement in determining whether a child can be promoted out of the third grade), I never dreamed we’d have to get the federal government’s permission to okay those changes. However, THAT’S EXACTLY where we find ourselves with our NCLB waiver renewal.
We must conform to the federal government’s dictates in all of those areas or we’re subject to losing the waiver. On behalf of the Obama administration, U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has threatened to not renew Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver this summer should the state stop using the Common Core standards, but TLE changes are likely being discussed as a reason for non-renewal given what just happened in another state. The state of Washington recently lost their NCLB waiver over their unwillingness to evaluate their teachers using test scores (similar to our reluctance to implement the quantitative side of TLE). The local school principal, as the curriculum leader, can identify a good teacher regardless of a quantitative metric. We must stand up against Washington D.C now or we’ll have to ask permission from this point on with any minor tweaks to our state’s education policy. To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 413, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5586.