Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill in March officially rejecting Common Core national standards, making it the first state to do so. But the parents and curriculum experts whose criticism led to the change also criticize the first draft of replacement standards for looking very similar to the Common Core mandates it is meant to replace.
The draft, released to the public in February, essentially overlays Common Core with so many more mandates from other standards that roughly 90 percent of Common Core inside constitutes half the draft, according to an analysis of the math standards by former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman. During three public hearings around the state on February 24-26, school administrators and teachers complained the 98-page draft with more than 1,000 K-12 mandates would be virtually impossible to cover during the school year.
At the end of the February 26 hearing in Plymouth, a second-grade teacher stood up.
“I sat here for hours and didn’t think I would speak, but I have to,” she said. She feared publicly speaking her mind, she said. Common Core went into place in her classroom in 2013-14, she said, and it’s so overwhelming she can’t “truly care” about her students and their families. “We just run all day long,” she said, her voice trembling. “I feel Common Core is really beating up our children.”
After criticism from even Common Core supporters, several panels convened by Pence’s office are once more rewriting the standards draft. The new law requires new standards and tests to be in place by July 1.
In 2013, Indiana lawmakers put Common Core’s national curriculum and testing mandates on hold, meaning they’d remain partially phased in to K-3 classrooms while grades 4-12 would use Indiana’s previous standards until the state reviewed Common Core. Since then, Pence called for “uncommonly high” standards written “by Hoosiers for Hoosiers,” state Superintendent Glenda Ritz walked out of a state board of education meeting and sued the board when board member Brad Oliver moved that it follow the law by reviewing the standards, and the governor established a new education agency under his control, not Ritz’s.
Common Core has been besieged by parents and academics for approximately two years, leading to legislative challenges against it in approximately half the states this spring alone. They’ve flagged a number of concerns, including the private process that created the standards, legally suspect Obama administration demands that states adopt them and corresponding national tests, the standards’ academic quality, loopholes that allow private entities to collect children’s personal data and give access to it to the federal government, and forcing the standards on teachers through test results that play into their job security.
More than 850 Hoosiers submitted online comments on the draft standards, said Lou Ann Baker, a spokeswoman for Pence’s education agency. “That’s a lot,” she said. Typically, few citizens comment on state standards proposals. Indiana also recently proposed new social studies standards, for example, which local media has not yet reported and even keyed-in grassroots activists just recently discovered, according to Heather Crossin of Hoosiers Against Common Core.
Storm of Criticism
State board of education member Andrea Neal, who criticized Common Core before Pence appointed her to the board, met with Pence to discuss the draft on March 5. Neal, a middle-school English and history teacher, says she is deeply concerned Indiana will approve subpar academic requirements. She called the draft a “fiasco.”
Neal told the governor “this is more than federalism; it’s about the quality of the standards,” she wrote in an email to School Reform News. “He reiterated that he wants standards that are ‘uncommonly high.'”
That description doesn’t fit the current draft standards, she said, and even Common Core supporters agree.
The draft standards would lead to “the curriculum being too crowded, making it virtually impossible to properly teach or learn,” said Derek Redelman, a vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, in a press release announcing the chamber’s analysis of the draft. The chamber has opposed all efforts to replace Common Core until just recently.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse
Pence’s education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI), has been steering the Common Core rewrite, but with a large number of hands on the wheel from Common Core supporters. Crossin and fellow activist mom Erin Tuttle found the state’s two panels assigned to choose draft standards and evaluate those choices are half to a third comprised of people who publicly supported Common Core. That likely explains why the draft looks so much like Common Core. In addition, eight people sit on both panels, meaning they will evaluate their own work.
“I know some of [the panel members] have testified in favor of Common Core not because of ideology but because they believed they were better standards,” Oliver said. “You have two very different competing philosophies about standards right now.”
The small army of grassroots Hoosiers who pushed the state to reconsider Common Core didn’t spend hours driving to legislative sessions, public hearings, and rallies to get Common Core back in classrooms, Crossin said.
“Most of us thought we’d moved beyond the debate of whether we in Indiana should reject Common Core, but those in positions of power clearly do not agree,” she said.
Image by House GOP.