Last week, with just days remaining in the Legislative session, House Speaker T.W. Shannon made a surprising announcement. He said that he would put forward a measure to repeal Common Core standards in Oklahoma schools.
Oklahoma lawmakers voted to adopt the Common Core education standards in 2010. For the last three years, Oklahoma schools have spent millions of dollars and thousands of person-hours transitioning to Common Core learning standards. The scope of what’s already been done is enormous.
Teachers have participated in numerous trainings and conferences to prepare for Common Core. The Oklahoma Education Association assembled dozens of classroom teachers from across the state to conduct trainings on the CC goals for literacy and math, as well devoting their 2012 Professional Development Conference to the new standards. Teachers and administrators participated in CC trainings offered at OSU by the K-12 Teachers Alliance and by the K-20 Center at OU. The state Department of Education has spent millions to embed Reac3h Coaches in schools across the state to assist with the transition.
Schools have already purchased textbooks for language arts and social studies designed to meet CC standards, and Oklahoma schoolchildren have spent the last three years expecting to be tested on the Common Core in 2014.
Oklahoma education leaders have also been working to develop the standardized tests that will evaluate if students are reaching the standards. Oklahoma is a governing state in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Coalition responsible for creating these tests. Superintendent Janet Barresi, Regents Chancellor Glen Johnson, and other Oklahomans are playing active roles in the process.
More recently, some politicians and advocacy groups have made headlines by warning that Common Core would be a “federal takeover” of our education system. It’s an idea that originated with paranoid fringe commentators like Glenn Beck. Now it’s been picked up by Speaker Shannon.
The claims of these critics are plainly false. The Common Core initiative originated with the National Governors Association, a bipartisan group of state leaders of which Gov. Fallin is currently the vice-chair, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state-level school leaders across the country.
Their intention was to create standards that would better align primary school education with what is already expected of students in America’s universities – such as the need to read and analyze difficult texts and to develop a written thesis backed by evidence. It is designed to close an expectations gap between primary school and college that leads to between one-fifth and one-half of incoming freshmen to be assigned to non-credit bearing, remedial courses.
After Common Core was developed,the federal government did jump on board to encourage its adoption by awarding points on Race to the Top education grants. But it remains a state-led and state-implemented effort that is broadly supported by Oklahoma teachers, by local superintendents, and by local education advocates.
The implementation of Common Core does have some more defensible criticisms. Many educators and parents are concerned that 2014 is too soon to begin high-stakes testing on Common Core standards, because schools and students need more time to adjust. Some are wary of the growing emphasis on standardized tests across the board. Others say that knowing sooner whether students are meeting the higher standards will help advance improvements, even if test results are disappointing at first.
However, the paranoia against Common Core that inspired Speaker Shannon to turn against it is based on fiction (or as the Oklahoman editorial board less gently put it, “bizarre conspiracy theories that defy reason”). According to The National Review, an influential magazine that is firmly part of the conservative movement:
Common Core offers American students the opportunity for a far more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K–12 education than most of them have had. Conservatives used to be in favor of holding students to high standards and an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic. Aren’t they still?
As someone entrusted with great power in Oklahoma, Speaker Shannon has a responsibility to show leadership and to debunk false rumors. Instead, he has chosen to exploit fears being stoked up by the ideological fringe. In the process, he would throw our classrooms into disarray, waste millions of dollars already spent on the standards, and devalue years of hard work by Oklahoma teachers and students.