Is the Common Core Evaluation a Dog and Pony Show?

Published February 13, 2014

Indiana leaders are using words that conflict with their actions regarding the national K–12 curriculum and testing mandates known as Common Core.

“There has never in the state of Indiana been a more rigorous review of standards,” says state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. State School Board member Brad Oliver called the two-week review process “exhaustive.” If that is true, then why are the most highly regarded education standards in the United States not on the table for review? The various panels Ritz’s department is convening are only considering Common Core, draft Indiana standards from 2009, and model standards from national organizations of English and math teachers. Both of the latter model standards are known to be low-quality and were often the basis of the weak state standards Common Core proponents deride.

Why are Indiana leaders not also considering, for example, standards from California and Massachusetts, which are known to have some of the best education standards in the country, along with Indiana’s former standards? Even evaluators from the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute rated all three of these states’ standards higher than Common Core. Given that, perhaps only the Indiana, California, and Massachusetts standards should be on the table, at least if we want “the best in the nation,” as Gov. Mike Pence has promised. This suggests politics is more important than quality.

During the panel’s orientation, which was public, the people appointed to evaluate our future standards were instructed to spend approximately 45 seconds on each requirement, for a total evaluation time of just a few hours. That must be Ritz’s definition of “rigorous,” or Oliver’s of “thorough.” They must have gone to school during the bad old days of rotten standards, where no one learned what words mean.

The panel seems to be stacked in favor of Common Core. Fifteen of the 29 members have either publicly stated support for the Core, are so invested in the standards that they train teachers to put them into practice, or helped write Common Core tests. Eight of them signed public petitions supporting the Core, three testified in favor of keeping Common Core at last year’s numerous hearings, and seven—yes, a full quarter—are official state representatives for the federally funded Common Core tests Indiana has decided to suspend. No one on the panel is known to have doubts about Common Core.

There are two panels. The evaluation panel will review and recommend standards, and a second panel will review the first panel’s work. (Don’t you just love committees?) Both have about 30 members, but nine people sit on both committees. Thus, a third of the people on these committees will evaluate their own work, and they are staunch Common Core supporters, even though their job is supposed to be to replace Common Core with something better.

“When it comes to setting standards for schools, I can assure you, Indiana’s will be uncommonly high,” Pence assured Hoosiers. “They will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and will be among the best in the nation.” It seems the operative phrase in this sentence, for it to remain accurate, will be “among the best.” That’s right, Indiana kids. We don’t want to give you the very best. Just something good enough for government work.