May 23, 2014

Lawmakers Say New Standards Could be Similar

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Nate Robson

Nate Robson

EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
May 23, 2014

Both the House and Senate passed legislation Friday that could potentially make Oklahoma the second state in the nation to drop the Common Core academic standards.

Opponents of Friday’s vote, which marked the last day of session, said the move could throw Oklahoma schools into a state of chaos for the next two years while the state drafts new standards that may still look like Common Core.

Indiana became the first state in the nation this year to drop the Common Core. The state has proposed new standards, but critics have blasted those for being too similar to Common Core.

“Oh, absolutely, that’s going to happen here too,” said Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, who voted against the repeal. “We are playing shell games with the students of Oklahoma, and unfortunately the people of Oklahoma are going to lose.”

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she also believes similar standards will be drafted.

“The fact is these are rigorous standards,” Virgin said of Common Core. “A lot of thought was put in to drafting these.”

Critics of Friday’s vote said Oklahoma is the latest state to retreat from the Common Core because of the rhetoric that equates the standards to a federal takeover of state education.

Rep. John Bennet, R-Sallisaw, called the standards “the most dangerous Trojan horse that’s been brought to our gates,” during an hour-long debate Friday.

Those who opposed the bill said the federal government had nothing to do with creating the standards.

While the U.S. Department of Education has endorsed the standards, the standards were created by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

Rep. James Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who authored the repeal, said Common Core equates to a federal takeover because the U.S. Department is threatening to punish states that don’t implement the academic standards by revoking their No Child Left Behind waiver.

Losing the waiver means schools with even one child failing to meet proficiency would have to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding for use in programs established under No Child Left Behind.

In Oklahoma, more than 1,600 of the states 1,760 schools would likely fail to meet the 100 percent proficiency requirement, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Oklahoma gets about $149 million in federal funding.

The U.S. Department of Education has already warned Indiana its waiver is at risk after dropping Common Core, and Washington state lost its waiver for not tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Nelson said Oklahoma should not bow to that kind of pressure, but added new standards could still be similar to Common Core as long as they are not an exact copy.

“I think this is a discussion we need to have,” Nelson said of the federal governments pressure. “The federal government should not dictate how we run our education.”

Gov. Mary Fallin did not indicate on Friday whether she will sign the bill.

Fallin at one point was a strong supporter of common core, but then issued an executive order saying Oklahoma would not implement standards that cede control of Oklahoma’s education system to outside organizations.

Fallin declined to say if she believes the state’s current standards cede control, adding she has not had a chance to look at the language in the bill.

Shelton said he believes Fallin will sign the bill since it would prove popular in an election year.

Reps. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Virgin said they hoped Fallin will veto the bill given her prior support for Common Core.

Nelson said he believes Fallin could decide either way.

If Fallin vetoes the bill, the Legislature cannot vote to override her since the session ended Friday.

If Fallin signs the bill, Oklahoma will continue to use the current Priority Academic Student Skills standards while new standards are drafted. There are concerns the switch could pose problems in districts that have already shifted to the Common Core, which is supposed to be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

Regardless of Fallin’s decision, Denney said she does not see Oklahoma retreating from its obligation to prepare students for college or the workforce.

“It’s a temporary situation,” said Denney, who voted against the repeal. “I don’t feel we are stepping back from requiring a lot from our students.”

Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org

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