Oklahoma’s Common Core is dead. What happens next, and when?
The legislation repealing the Common Core, recently passed by the Oklahoma Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin, requires that new math and English curriculum standards for kindergarten through high school be developed by the state Board of Education by Aug. 1, 2016, just over two years away. The first steps toward that goal are already under way, long-time Durant resident Amy Ford told the Daily Democrat. She has been a member of that state education board since 2011 and noted it will meet this coming Thursday.
She said the board will begin going over plans then “on moving forward past the repeal legislation, HB3399.” That’s a very complicated bill, she said, and “was certainly not written with brevity in mind. Our legal staff is currently looking at it so that the board will know our options on where we can find guidance on crafting the new standards. We will operate within our statutory authority and craft our path forward once we know those options.”
The process for writing the standards will be developed by the state Department of Education and by regents for higher education and career tech, education department spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said. Committees to produce the standards will then be assembled by the department staff. Anyone interested in joining the standards-writing teams may apply to the state education department, Pemberton said. It’s anticipated, she added, that the committees will be made up of educators from all grade levels, parents, community members and business professionals. The standards they generate will then be reviewed by focus groups made up of additional educators, parents, community members and business professionals from throughout the state.
The standards must then be approved by the state Board of Education before going to the Legislature. House members will be able to amend or rewrite before the proposed bill goes to the Senate and then to the governor Among the options the board will consider will probably be one urged by Paul Risser, former chancellor for Oklahoma higher education. In a recent op-ed article in the Daily Oklahoman, he outlined what he called “a reasonable pathway forward” for those creating new standards. He noted that the Common Core defines the goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills that will help students succeed in school, in careers and as citizens. It is not a curriculum, he said, doesn’t tell teachers what to teach or the materials they should use, and isn’t an assessment tool. So, rather than invent a whole new set of standards, he said, state education officials should start with the Common Core and build on it, creating Oklahoma formulated standards that will be even more rigorous than those in the Core. Any changes, additions or deletions, he added, must be research based and evidence based. Meeting expanded Core standards, he added, will help students succeed in school, in careers and as citizens, and will increase the rigor in Oklahoma’s education system. As a state board member, Ford, of Durant, is one of two area residents deeply involved in the process. The other is state Sen. Josh Brecheen, whose district includes Bryan County. He is co-author of the repeal legislation. He and Ford didn’t agree on the need for repeal of the Common Core.
Brecheen said he shares the view of critics that the Core represented an intrusion by the federal government into local control of Oklahoma education. He sees a danger in a national curriculum because such “uniformity will hinder innovation.” Being locked into a national program may keep Oklahomans from developing “educational programs designed for Oklahoma students,” he said.
He was asked if the new curriculum will set goals for each subject and each grade level, as the Common Core has done, but then make the goals more demanding to strengthen the learning experience. He said the expectation is to “get superior standards by leveraging our in-state experience while also looking at success in other states.” He emphasized that the writing teams will depend strongly on Oklahoma teachers with grade-level expertise but also be able to see what is succeeding in other states such as in Massachusetts, “where they have decades of superior scores on NAEP and ACT. Nothing in the bill would prohibit the writing team from looking at successful state models.” He warned, however, that the committees should not just “cut and paste from other sources.” Responding to Risser’s suggestion that the new standards be built on the Common Core, Brecheen said, “Common Core is a grand experiment. The claim that it will lead to higher educational attainment or result in students being college and career ready is hopeful speculation by Common Core supporters.” Kentucky, Brecheen said, though lauded by some as a success, has not shown praiseworthy gains in 4th or 8th grade reading/math scores. If writing team teachers are looking for a starting point, Becheen said, they should look at tested and tried standards with proven results, such as in Massachusetts.
Ford, by contrast, said she was “very disappointed” that Fallin signed the repeal bill. “I see a nightmare coming,” she said, as teachers and students shift from programs now aligned with the Common Core, back to the PASS standards in place in 2010, and then to new standards in two more years. Fallin had said that, before signing the bill, she would consult with parents and educators. She didn’t meet formally with the board but “we all frequently talk individually with her,” Ford said. All board members have been appointed by the governor; the board chair is Janet Barresi by virtue of being the elected state school superintendent.
Ford said she sees worrisome consequences of the Common Core repeal. While opponents kept citing federal intrusion, Ford said, “I just don’t see the tie. I never saw the Core as a federal intrusion. Federal dollars aren’t evil. We should find and take advantage of the best work being done in and outside the state.” She urges that Oklahomans seek a broad consensus on education policies and regrets the loss of the help the Common Core would have been to students transferring across state lines if multi-state standards were more closely aligned. One possible problem she sees: “What if the writing teams find a Common Core standard that is the best of the lot? Will it be rejected because it was part of the Common Core?” she asks.
She also applauded the Core’s requirements for increased writing in all subjects and the Core’s strong push for more concentration on critical-thinking instruction. “I’ve seen kids get excited,” she said, “in seeking solutions for problems.