Common Core Remains at Center of Education Stage

The Common Core was a critical component of the Daniels-Bennett education reforms that were pursued over the last four years. Developed through leadership of the National Governors Association and the Council of State Chief School Officers, these math and English standards are designed to provide a common and rigorous benchmark for students that can be compared across state lines and can be benchmarked against our international competitors.  Adoption of the standards is optional, but Indiana is one of 46 states that committed to the standards after a review by the Indiana Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education. The Obama administration has also supported the Common Core by offering additional points in grant competitions to states that have adopted the standards and through two large grants to help support the development of corresponding assessments.  Indeed, Indiana has been one of the lead states in helping to develop one of those assessments.

Unfortunately, that support by the Obama administration has caused some critics to suggest, incorrectly, that the standards have actually been developed by the federal government and/or have been “mandated” by the federal government. Neither accusation is correct. In fact, the real developers of the standards – a consortium of governors and state superintendents – have asked the feds to stop being so “supportive” so that such concerns can be allowed to settle. But here in Indiana, those concerns have emerged most prominently from a small fringe element of the Tea Party that have demanded Indiana withdraw from the Common Core.  Moreover, this opposition is supported by a handful of national researchers from mostly far-right think tanks that have claimed that the standards are poorly designed, lacking in rigor and too expensive to implement. Other researchers and think tanks – along with education officials from Indiana – have rebuked these criticisms; yet, the debate continues.
           
On Wednesday, Indiana took center stage in that debate as local Tea Party activists and national critics joined forces to support a proposed mandate to ban Indiana’s further participation in the Common Core. The Indiana Chamber was the lead presenter among three dozen allies, most of them organized by the education reform group, Stand for Children, which opposed the proposed ban. While the proponents of the ban were limited primarily to a small but passionate number of parents and national think tank representatives, the opponents of the ban included a broad coalition including the Fordham Institute, Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UIndy’s CELL, Goodwill Education Industries, Indiana PTA, Indiana Association of School Principals, ISTA, Indiana Federation of Teachers and more than a dozen classroom and building-level educators.

The Indiana Chamber has acknowledged that some of the critics – at least those focused on contents of the standards rather than hysterical exaggerations of federal intrusion – may have some legitimate concerns that should be evaluated.  But we’ve also noted that those concerns, if legitimate, can be offset by the flexibilities contained within the Common Core and through corresponding adoptions of rigorous assessments and accountability measures. But more importantly, we have urged the Legislature to leave such determinations in the hands of our state’s education leaders, including the Department of Education, the Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education, rather than subjecting our standards to the politicized environment of the Legislature. Indeed, while critics of the Common Core have heaped praise on Indiana’s previous state standards, they consistently overlook the fact that those highly-rated standards were adopted through the same process as was conducted when Indiana adopted the Common Core, and that the Legislature played no role in those adoptions.

Senator Schneider has already drafted one amendment to his bill that would remove the ban from Common Core but would invalidate our state’s previous adoption, require a new adoption process with extensive public input and implement a new ban on Indiana participation in either of the Common Core assessments. Newly-elected State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has occasionally expressed some concerns about the new standards, has urged the Legislature to allow Common Core implementation to continue but has promised to conduct a review of the standards that would be completed by the end of 2013. The Indiana Chamber supports the Ritz recommendation and notes that such a review would be helpful for determining how best to use the flexibilities that are allowed in the multi-state agreement. The next step of this debate will likely occur on January 30, when the Senate Education Committee is expected to amend and vote on SB 193.