Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill Thursday scrapping academic standards that have become a bright symbol of federal overreach.
Her decision to throw out Common Core math and English standards drew immediate criticism from educators and business interests as a disruptive political move that was not in the best interest of young people, while opponents of the benchmarks cheered the end to what they said was a harmful federal intrusion.
“It has become very apparent to me that the word Common Core has become a word that is tainted, that is divisive, that has caused widespread concern throughout our state,” Fallin said in an afternoon news conference.
The standards for children in kindergarten through 12th grade were developed in a state-led effort launched in 2009 through the National Governors Association, a group Fallin now heads. Meant to be rigorous and advance critical thinking, they were adopted voluntarily by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Oklahoma joins Indiana in repealing them.
Although Common Core was not developed by the federal government, it has become a rallying cry for states’ rights advocates. They often invoke the name of President Barack Obama in criticizing them.
Fallin took up that theme: “President Obama and Washington bureaucrats have usurped Common Core in an attempt to influence state education standards.”
She explained that the federal government provides financial incentives for states that use Common Core.
“Many people have seen that as taking away states’ rights, local control over education, and trying to impede upon our state’s ability to develop standards that we think are best for our children,” Fallin said.
Asked whether this means Oklahoma could lose federal money, the governor said:
“There’s a possibility; we won’t know until that happens.”
After the news conference, Robert Sommers, secretary of education and workforce development, clarified that Oklahoma does not get any federal incentive money for having Common Core standards and does not stand to lose any federal funding for education as a result of Fallin’s decision, but it could lose some of the flexibility in how it spends some of that money.
Jenni White, president of Restore Oklahoma Public Education, praised the governor’s decision.
“We are extremely pleased,” she said. “One more year of Common Core would have implanted it so firmly, it would have been very much harder to get rid of.”
The state will now return to a pre-2010 set of standards for schoolchildren while the state develops a new set of benchmarks.
The governor said the new standards will be better than Common Core. Educators will draw them up, but the Oklahoma Legislature will have the final say on what the end product looks like.
Meanwhile, many schools will have to scramble to adjust back to the Oklahoma Priority Academic Students Skills standards that were in place from 2003 to 2010.
“This decision will throw many schools into chaos as they prepare for a new academic year,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “It also represents a significant waste of the time and resources schools have spent on the transition over the last four years. This decision is not good for Oklahoma’s schools, and it’s not good for Oklahoma’s kids.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Education Policy Cheryl Oldham said Fallin’s decision will result in high school graduates who “are not adequately prepared for college or the workforce.”
Waiver in danger?
Efforts to have less federal direction for Oklahoma schools could lead to more federal control, at least in the short term.
The No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush, contains academic performance standards the vast majority of Oklahoma schools don’t achieve. These schools would be subject to strong federal directives aimed at bringing them in compliance, but the state has been able to avoid this in part because Common Core helped give the state a waiver under the act.
If the standards that replace them are deemed not rigorous enough, Oklahoma could lose that waiver, state Education Department officials said. Without the waiver:
•A total of $27.2 million in federal funds for improving achievement among the disadvantaged could be set aside and used for other, supplemental educational services in the state.
•More poorly performing schools would be forced to implement plans that could include school closure or replacement of the principal and 50 percent of the staff.
•Transportation would be required for students in poorly performing schools to be taken to nonfailing schools.
Staff Writer Tim Willert
What they’re saying
Repealing of Common Core
“I’m just disappointed that we have found ourselves in this position as a state in relation to common education. I think that this is
Joe Siano, superintendent,
Norman Public Schools
“The federal government has disregarded parental rights, over-regulated teachers, and over-tested our kids. Parents, local governments and teachers are better equipped to meet the needs of their students than the federal government.”
State Rep. T. W. Shannon
“We’re not surprised that the governor signed it; politically we think she had no other choice. We are concerned about what happens now. We’ll just have to wait and see what the state Department of Education’s reaction to the bill is.”
Steven Crawford, executive director,
Cooperative Council for
Oklahoma School Administration
“Common Core began as a state-led program but was hijacked by the federal government. Our students need higher standards, but those standards must be determined locally. Giving the federal government the power to decide the testing standards through Common Core, in turn gives them power and influence over the subjects taught in the classroom. This is not the role of the federal government and I applaud the governor and our state for standing against Common Core.”
U.S. Rep. James Lankford
“I’m deeply disappointed when I think of the time and the expense that has been put into implementing those standards. Now all that momentum is gone, and we have to start all over with standards that we haven’t even seen yet. It’s discouraging.”
Phil Horning, member
Oklahoma City School Board
“Today’s decision by Governor Mary Fallin to sign HB 3399 is not only disappointing, it’s dangerous. She is abandoning the hard work of Oklahoma teachers who want to ensure all kids graduate from high school prepared for the real world. The ultimate and unfortunate losers in this game of political brinkmanship are Oklahoma’s children. With her signature, the governor is inserting even more federal control over our schools — the very issue the most vocal opponents say they want stopped.”
Amber England, interim executive director
Stand for Children Oklahoma
“In a policy reversal and against strong vocal objections from educators, military families, institutions of higher learning, and the business community, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed HB 3399, a bill that eliminates Common Core in the state. The law marks a conscious step away from the high academic standards embodied within the Common Core in favor of lower standards that, by every objective measure, will produce high school graduates that are not adequately prepared for college or the workforce. The U.S. Chamber will continue to advocate for higher standards that will improve our education system for all students.”
vice president of education policy,
U.S. Chamber of Commerce