Common Core Re-Enters the Political Theater

Published December 5, 2013

Indiana education politics has dwelt in drama-queen land recently, with state Superintendent Glenda Ritz unsuccessfully trying to sue the school board she chairs for discussing over email an idea she heard in a previous meeting. Now they will all endure group therapy facilitated by outsiders to resolve what looks like a petty turf war.

Amid this time-wasting political theater, Indiana’s legislative leaders have returned to the biggest substantive controversy in state education politics: what to do with Common Core. House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long have announced they will push the legislature to ditch the national testing and curriculum standards for Indiana standards.

As with everything, the devil is in the details, in whatever bill hits the 2014 session with this directive in it. For one, will dropping Common Core also mean permanently dropping its federally funded national tests? Second, what will Indiana replace it with, and how?

There are ways to show schools and teachers how Common Core may overlap and interact with Indiana standards. Because teachers have put lots of work into adopting Common Core, as the state told them to do starting in 2010, they deserve to have that work respected by being given some “crosswalks.” Doing so is standard procedure for states switching standards.

Since the goal is to get better academic requirements than Common Core, such crosswalks and any new standards should not essentially institute Common Core with a new name. Despite claims to the contrary, opposition to Common Core is not merely political. It is substantive and based on the standards themselves. Even Common Core proponents, such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, agree Indiana’s previous standards are academically superior to Common Core. This means Indiana cannot and must not use Common Core tests to measure better-than-Common Core standards. Bosma suggested Indiana standards “incorporate” the SAT and ACT, but this could essentially mean incorporating Common Core because those tests are shifting to match the national standard. It would be wiser to educate children well and let ACT and SAT scores take care of themselves. Homeschool and private-school students consistently demonstrate children can trounce their peers on these exams without being taught to the tests.

How and what Indiana puts in place of Common Core may depend partly on state leaders’ ability to work with Ritz. Although Ritz, a Democrat, won a good many crossover votes from Republicans for her campaign stance questioning Common Core, she appears willing to ignore that part of her platform if that means jabbing her GOP sparring partners in the legislature and governor-appointed state school board. There already has been some tussling over this, as the school board is legally mandated to review Common Core by July 2014 and Ritz has been convening her own Common Core review committees within the state department of education. This may be a reason Long and Bosma are working toward legislative action instead.

At the heart of the Common Core tit-for-tat is the centuries-long debate about what children should learn, why, and who gets to control it. Apparently Indiana policymakers are not ready to embrace research from places like the Brookings Institution and Stanford University showing education standards are a big waste of time because they have little or no effect on how much children learn. For policymakers, embracing that research would mean giving their control over education back to communities, teachers, and parents, who are closest to kids and can best assess kids’ individual needs and talents. But it would be the best solution of all.


Joy Pullmann ([email protected]) is an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute and a 2013 Novak journalism fellow.