FEW people deny that Oklahoma’s education system faces many challenges. But until now, no one claimed the solution was to put politicians in direct charge of writing academic standards for public schools. Yet that’s what a bill approved on the final day of the legislative session endorses.
This is the latest, and goofiest, development to come out of efforts to repeal Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma. Under the final provisions of House Bill 3399, the state Board of Education would be required to adopt new academic standards in language and math by Aug. 1, 2016, after consulting with a wide range of experts. However, the legislation exempts adoption of those academic standards from the state’s Administrative Procedures Act. That law allows legislative review of agency rules, but typically requires lawmakers to simply accept or reject rules.
Instead of using that longstanding practice, House Bill 3399 would make academic standards “subject to legislative review” in a separate process. Under the bill, state lawmakers would adopt a joint resolution to “approve the standards, disapprove the standards in whole or in part, amend the standards in whole or in part or disapprove the standards in whole or in part with instructions to the State Board of Education …” (emphasis added).
In short, the state Board of Education can develop new standards with the input of experts, parents and other affected groups — but then state lawmakers can arbitrarily and unilaterally rewrite those standards at will.
While it’s impossible to completely remove politics from any process involving state government entities, HB 3399 would place the development of academic standards entirely in the political arena. Rather than having education officials guide the process, standards could effectively be written entirely by politicians possessing little or no relevant expertise. Academic standards potentially would be based on which groups lobbied lawmakers the most intensely and gave the most campaign cash, not on what’s best for Oklahoma students.
Keep in mind, these are the same lawmakers who voted to adopt Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma in 2010, but now insist they didn’t know what they were doing at the time. Apparently, Oklahomans are supposed to believe that this time legislators will pay attention and really study the issues, cross their heart and hope to ...
In the meantime, HB 3399 requires state schools to revert to the academic standards in place prior to 2010. (Those standards, by the way, suggested the use of calculators as early as first grade.)
Thus, under HB 3399, Oklahoma’s public schools may be required to adapt to three different sets of standards within just six years. That’s an expensive and wasteful way to do business.
After Indiana repealed Common Core academic standards this year, officials estimated it would cost up to $125 million to train teachers on the new education standards. Oklahoma schools have already spent significant amounts adapting to Common Core standards. Now they must spend money reverting to the old standards, then spend more money adapting to whatever standards legislators concoct a few years from now.
House Bill 3399 defines “critical thinking” to mean “a manner of analytical thinking which is logical and uses linear factual analysis to reach a conclusion.” While state lawmakers may know how to define critical thinking, the provisions of this bill suggest they don’t know how to use it. Gov. Mary Fallin should veto the legislation.