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.”
In debate on the House floor, several state representatives said their objections to Common Core have nothing to do with a reluctance to make the curriculum more rigorous.
“I am for higher standards. I am for more rigor, but I don’t think Common Core is the way to get there,” Blackwell said.
State Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, said most of the criticism he has received from teachers and administrators in his district has centered on too many tests being required rather than the standard itself.
“We’ve multiplied the testing threefold from what the federal mandate was,” said McPeak, a former college dean. “What’s the possibility of getting this testing down to something the teachers and students and general public can live with?”
“Indeed, I would say that the barb at the end of the Common Core hook is the assessments,” Blackwell agreed. “Those that don’t have to administer and grade the tests seem to love to mandate the tests.”
Several House members voiced concerns about Common Core giving people from other states too much say in the development of Oklahoma academic standards.
Gov. Mary Fallin has attempted to walk a fine line by promoting increased academic rigor and local control, while urging caution in any attempt to repudiate national testing or curricula.
“Governor Fallin supports the ongoing implementation of the Oklahoma Academic Standards in K-12 schools that are designed to improve student performance by increasing classroom rigor,” said Alex Weintz, the governor’s spokesman. “Higher expectations have been proven to lead to higher outcomes, and are essential to ensuring that students are college-, career- and citizen-ready when graduating high school.”
Weintz said the governor believes it is important that standards be developed at the state level and implemented locally by teachers and school administrators through a locally determined curriculum.
“The governor will never support nor allow the Obama administration to dictate what we teach or how we teach Oklahoma students,” he said.
An executive order issued by the governor last year was specifically designed to protect local control, he said.
“The governor urges the Legislature, as it works on legislation involving the Oklahoma Academic Standards and Common Core, to receive input from educators and to be mindful of unintended consequences,” Weintz said. “Blanket prohibitions on national testing or curricula could, for example, jeopardize the state’s relationship with the FFA as well as its use of Advanced Placement, SAT and ACT standardized tests. She encourages lawmakers to work slowly and deliberately through these issues to ensure that any legislation improves education in Oklahoma, increases classroom rigor and does so without unintentionally hamstringing educators or affecting ongoing successful practices.”
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
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,