Common Core repeal could put Oklahoma schools under more federal control

275px-No_Child_Left_Behind_ActWith the legislative session now adjourned, attention shifts to Governor Mary Fallin, who has 15 days from the day bills reach her desk to sign or veto legislation (she can also exercise a pocket veto by taking no action on a bill).  Her toughest decision, and the one generating the most attention, is over HB 3399, the bill aiming to repeal Common Core standards. While there is much at stake for Oklahoma’s education system in the bill, one of the most serious consequences is that Oklahoma could lost its waiver exempting the state from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the federal education bill passed by Congress in 2001 that requires schools show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)* in student performance on standardized tests.  Schools that failed to meet AYP goals were subject to various improvement measures and sanctions. By 2014, every child in 3rd through 8th grade was expected to be testing on grade level in reading and math.

While NCLB initially enjoyed broad, bipartisan support, opposition to the legislation grew steadily, especially over the law’s rigid benchmarks for measuring student performance and its strict sanctions for schools that didn’t meet those benchmarks. Since the late 2000s, efforts to revise the law to provide greater flexibility have failed in Congress. Instead, the Obama Administration invited states to “request flexibility regarding specific requirements of [NCLB] in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive State-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.” Among the requirements that all states must demonstrate to obtain a waiver is college- and career-ready standards and corresponding assessments for all students by the year 2014-15.

Oklahoma was among the first states granted an NCLB ‘flexibility waiver’ two years ago. The waiver exempts Oklahoma from eleven requirements under NCLB, including the requirement that schools make Adequate Yearly Progress* and various restrictions on the spending of federal funds. In its waiver application, Oklahoma touted a number of educational reforms enacted in recent years that were seen as establishing its commitment to the goals of NCLB, including its adoption of “rigorous English language arts and math standards now in place in 45 other States and the District of Columbia.” These, of course, are the Common Core standards that were adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2010. The standards are set to take effect in 2014 but would be repealed by HB 3399.

HB 3399 provides that by August 2016, the state Board of Education must adopt standards “which are college- and career-ready and will replace current standards.”  Between now and 2016, the bill declares (Section 3.B):

3.  The State Board of Education shall implement the subject matter standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics which were in place prior to the revisions adopted by the Board in June 2010.
4. Upon the effective date of this act, the State Board of Education shall seek certification from the State Regents for Higher Education that the subject matter standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics which were in place prior to the revisions adopted by the Board in June 2010 are college- and career-ready as defined in the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility document issued by the United States Department of Education.

However, according to the State Department of Education, the Cooperative Council of School Administrators and others,  the standards that were in place prior to 2010, known as PASS (Priority Academic Student Skills), will not meet the threshold of college- and career-readiness. This in turn directly jeopardizes Oklahoma’s NCLB waiver. 

The consequences of losing our NCLB waiver would be significant. Oklahoma schools would be returned to the Adequate Yearly Progress* performance index and most will be subject to some kind of intervention from the state or federal government. Although the state’s waiver plan also includes turn-around plans for the lowest-performing schools (Priority Schools), NCLB’s measures would apply to far more schools and would provide less flexible interventions. According to the State Department of Education, whereas 168 schools are identified as Priority Schools under the waiver, 1,672 schools would be on the Needs Improvement List, requiring improvement or corrective action.  These schools will be obliged to set aside 20 percent of the federal funds they receive for disadvantaged students under Title I  – some $27.2 million – and use them for NCLB-prescribed remedies for low-performing schools, including supplemental educational services and school choice.

At least one state, Washington, has already had its NCLB waiver revoked, over a failure to adopt new teacher evaluation criteria, while several others have been designated as “high risk status.”  By putting Oklahoma’s waiver at risk, those claiming to be most committed to saving Oklahoma from federal control may end up putting us right back under the rules of one of the most rigid and onerous of federal laws.

*: We originally misidentified AYP as Annual Yearly Progress


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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