Oklahoma legislators open new chapter in Common Core debate

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to repeal Oklahoma’s common core school curriculum last week, opening yet another chapter in the school curriculum chaos that has engulfed Oklahoma schools the past few years.
by Randy Ellis and Tim Willert Modified: March 16, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: March 16, 2014
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The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to repeal Oklahoma’s Common Core academic standards last week, opening yet another chapter in the school curriculum chaos that has engulfed Oklahoma schools the past few years.

The Common Core standards are a rigorous set of academic standards for kindergarten through 12th grade students in English laguage arts/literacy and mathematics. The standards are designed to make sure students are ready for college and careers when they graduate, according to the state Education Department.

The standards were developed by state education chiefs and governors from 48 states and have been adopted by 45 states, including Oklahoma.

It is uncertain exactly what would happen if the House’s repeal efforts were ultimately successful.

The state Education Department currently monitors 168 schools that are on a priority schools list for failure to meet state and national academic standards.

In reality, however, more than 1,700 of the state’s 1,784 schools would be judged as failing under the nation’s strict academic standards, said Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for Janet Barresi, state superintendent of public instruction. The only reason the state Education Department doesn’t have to monitor all of them is that it has a progress waiver based on having adopted stricter academic standards that include the Common Core curriculum.

If the state were to lose that waiver, it would have to redesignate about $26 million of the $149 million a year in Title I funds that it receives for specific programs like providing remedial courses or paying for parents to transport children to the few remaining schools that aren’t judged as failing by national standards.

“If we lose the waiver request, we face more federal intrusion,” Pemberton said. “The waiver gives us flexibility.”

The state could apply for a waiver with a different curriculum standard, but it is unclear whether it would be granted.

Repeal of Common Core would also require school districts to readjust their curricula. When school districts were surveyed, nearly 60 percent said they had already fully implemented Common Core standards and 38 percent reported doing some work toward implementation, Pemberton said.

Reversing course would require work, something acknowledged by state Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, who carried the measure to repeal Common Core on the state House floor.

“It’s sort of hard to turn a battleship in a 10-foot radius and sometimes that might be what we are asking education to do,” Blackwell said.

Critics and supporters

Common Core has both its critics and defenders.

“These academic standards are about making sure our children can compete in the workforce and our companies can compete in the global marketplace,” said Roy H. Williams, the president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “If our education system isn’t preparing our kids for college and/or the workplace, then it’s necessary for the business community to stand up and get involved and say that we expect more. We believe through mastering these standards, students develop the critical thinking skills — and the ability to adapt to a constantly changing work environment — they will need for their future, whatever career path they choose.”

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for FOXSports.com in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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We believe through mastering these standards, students develop the critical thinking skills ... they will need for their future, whatever career path they choose.”

Roy H. Williams President and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber

It’s sort of hard to turn a battleship in a 10-foot radius and sometimes that might be what we are asking education to do.”

Rep. Gus Blackwell,
R-Laverne

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