Oklahoma legislators are moving inexorably toward dumping Common Core standards created over three or more years by full panels of educators drawn from Oklahoma and every other state and now adopted by all but five states.
Under legislation strongly supported by the Oklahoma House and a Senate committee, those carefully drawn standards would be replaced by a new set of standards to be developed by the state board of education working with higher education and career and technology officials. They’ll have only 18 months to roll out the new standards, and the announcement made no mention of help from teachers, principals or district superintendents, who might have a lot to contribute.
Gov. Mary Fallin says she will support “legislation that increases classroom rigor and accountability.” That’s what the current Common Core does.
She also wants a guarantee that Oklahoma public education is “protected from federal interference.” Oklahoma already is protected under a very specific executive order from the governor last year. A new Core hardly seems necessary.
Keep in mind that no federal official has ever proclaimed a need to take over public education in Durant or any other city in this or any state. Scrap the Core and start all over again? Reinventing the wheel is the phrase that pops to mind.
Fallin and many education officials have repeatedly cited Oklahoma students’ relatively low standings on national tests. “We are consistently behind students in most other states, and particularly states on our borders,” a governor’s spokeswoman said last year. That gap has been part of the force driving the new Core.
Writing problems persist for many public school students here and elsewhere, exacerbated by the spread of popular technology that requires little or no writing. A key Core element is increased emphasis on writing, in every grade and every subject. “Writing across the curriculum” is the descriptive phrase and it’s a critical component. If it disappears with the dumping of the Core, the loss to students would be great.
The pros and cons of the switch have been heatedly debated in the Capitol and across the state and nation. Noticeably absent from the discussions are specific complaints about specific content of the standards, probably at least in part because few people feel compelled to actually read the standards. Those who do read them find nothing that tells teachers how to teach. The standards lay out what students need to know to get a good job or get into college. Teachers, administrators and school boards decide how best to make that happen.
Some critics protest that the number of tests has been increased. Others cry that the standards, particularly the emphasis on critical thinking, push early-grade students too hard. Evidence of such damage seems scanty.
Certainly the number of tests could be looked at closely and reduced if needed. It’s also unlikely that youngsters in the early grades will be traumatized by teachers asking them to broaden their horizons somewhat, but that complaint, if accepted, could be easily accommodated. Responding appropriately to these complaints would certainly be easier, less costly, less time consuming and more effective than throwing out the whole Core curriculum.
The governor’s order fends off the feds and local control remains, in fact, firmly in local hands.
The Senate bill was voted out of committee by an 11-0 vote, despite passionate objections in the hearing that the huge amount of money and training time already spent on the new Core would be wasted. The effect on teachers, it was noted, would be harsh as they struggle to decide how best to teach youngsters amid the uncertainty of curriculum changes and test revisions. The bill will almost certainly be approved in the Senate by a wide margin, and the issue will be on the governor’s desk very soon. The governor should note that her protective order responds to a major concern, and that abandoning the whole Core is unnecessary, and financially and educationally a very bad idea.