Oklahoma lawmakers were urged Wednesday to reject proposed nationwide academic standards that were adopted three years ago by the state Board of Education and set to take effect next year.
Speakers at a rally that attracted about 150 in front of the old Supreme Court chambers in the state Capitol also warned about an overreaching federal government, a familiar foe of constitutional conservatives in the statehouse. Federal privacy laws were rewritten last year, they said, to let the government collect and then share typical student records such as test scores and discipline history with personal information such as medical records and psychological evaluations.
“The federal government is taking over the banking industry, the housing industry, the auto industry,” said Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow. “They need to stay away from education.
“Good teachers know what to teach,” he said. “We don't need the federal government telling us what to teach.”
Contacted later, Joel Robison, chief of staff for the state Education Department, said the only link the common core state standards has with the federal government is that federal election officials encouraged states to include implementation of the standards during the Race to the Top competition three years ago.
“As far as a mandate or anything along those lines, that's just not true,” he said.
Robison said private information on students will remain confidential.
“We're not going to collect any data on students other than the traditional data that we need to do our federal reporting and state reporting,” he said. “I think there's just kind of an overall concern here that there's some sort of federal intervention or some kind of big government program. We just don't see it that way.”
The common core state standards for English/language arts and math will be implemented in 2014-15. The standards will be integrated into districts under locally developed plans.
“It's going to require teachers to teach with more depth and it will require students to show critical thinking skills, creativity and those sorts of things,” Robison said.
Proponents of the common core state standards say the curriculum will provide a consistent understanding of what students are supposed to learn. Opponents say the program stifles innovation and doesn't address the main issue for poor student performance.
Task force stymied
Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, said during the rally he introduced legislation that would have created a task force to look at the cost of implementing the common core curriculum, but House Bill 1907, which won committee approval, failed to get heard on the House floor. It is considered dormant this year but could be heard next year; legislative sessions run for two years.
Blackwell on Wednesday filed House Resolution 1011, which states it is the Legislature's intent not to approve further adoption of common core state standards until its cost can be determined. It also directs the state Board of Education to prepare and submit a report on the academic standards.
“Taxpayers should not bear the brunt of a program for which we know little about, even three years after its inception,” he said.
Jenni White, co-founder of Restoring Oklahoma Public Education, which sponsored the rally, said getting the resolution passed in the House of Representatives would be a good start to get questions answered about the common core state standards.
“This would move the governor,” White said. “She would understand the people are not behind this. … The best thing people can do is continue to talk to their legislators.”
Blackwell said he was told it could cost $250 million to implement the standards, or more than twice the amount of new money legislative leaders are considering to fund common education for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“Someone is going to make a boatload of money off of this,” he said. “That boatload of money is not going to go to Oklahoma teachers, it's not going to go to Oklahoma schools, it's not going to go to educate Oklahoma kids. It's going to go to testing companies in other states.”
2010 law approved
Lawmakers approved the common core state standards in a 2010 law that was part of the state's application for a federal grant, called Race to the Top. The legislation was passed in the final days of the session, which Jenni White, co-founder of Restoring Oklahoma Public Education, said resulted in its receiving little scrutiny by lawmakers. Oklahoma didn't get the grant.
Joel Robison, chief of staff for the state Education Department, said it's estimated the common core state standards would cost about $60 million to implement. The agency is asking $30 million for the 2014 fiscal year and $30 million for the next fiscal year.
Oklahoma participated in the drafting of the standards in 2010 with a consortium of states organized by the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices.
White criticized Gov. Mary Fallin for pressuring legislative leaders to quash legislation that called for reviewing the common core state standards. Fallin was elected last year as vice chairman of the National Governors Association; she will become chairman of the nonpartisan group later this year.
Fallin was not governor when the 2010 common core legislation was approved. She was elected several months later and took office in January 2011.