U.S. Secretary of Education Blasts Oklahoma On Common Core

Nate Robson

Nate Robson

EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
June 10, 2014

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lambasted Oklahoma Monday after the state repealed its Common Core academic standards, saying “other states locally are out-educating Oklahoma.”

During a White House press briefing focusing on President Barack Obama’s push to address college affordability, Duncan was asked if the administration will attempt to stop other states from following Oklahoma’s example.

Duncan said he is not looking for states to specifically implement Common Core, and instead is focusing on states adopting stronger academic standards.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill on June 5 that repeals the controversial standards and gives Oklahoma until 2016 to craft replacement standards in math and English. She follows South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who signed a bill on May 30 phasing in new standards by 2016. Indiana dropped Common Core earlier this year.

Fallin, who once supported the Common Core, cited federal overreach as a reason she supported the repeal.

Duncan said the decision to drop Common Core was about politics and not education, especially since Fallin had said previously the standards are not a federal mandate.

“The Oklahoma example is a pretty interesting one,” said Duncan. “Just to give you a couple facts -- and I think sadly, this is not about education; this is about politics. So in Oklahoma, about 40 percent of high school graduates -- these are not the dropouts -- 40 percent of high school graduates have to take remedial classes when they go to college. Why? Because they weren’t ready.”

When pressed on whether states that drop the Common Core could be punished by the federal government by having their No Child Left Behind waivers rescinded, Duncan said the administration is only looking to see that states adopt strong standards..

If Oklahoma lost it’s No Child Left Behind waiver, the federal government would impose restrictions on how about $27 million in federal education funding is spent.

“If people want to dummy down standards, that’s a very different thing,” Duncan said. “We partner with states whether they're in Common Core or have their own high standards. But where we will challenge status quo is when states dummy down standards.”

Oklahoma will continue using its Priority Academic Student Skills standards, which many educators consider less rigorous than Common Core, before switching to new standards in 2016.

Many districts have used a combination of PASS and Common Core standards since 2010 in preparation for the full implementation of Common Core in the 2014-2015 school year.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education will ask the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to certify that PASS standards ensure students graduate high school “college and career ready.” It’s unclear whether the regents will sign off on the standards, especially given the number of Oklahoma students taking remedial classes in college.

You can read the full question and answer transcript on Oklahoma and the Common Core below:

QUESTION: ... And on Common Core, there are governors in three states that have signed legislation basically opting their states out of the Common Core standards. Is the administration looking to do anything to try to keep other states from following that example? And could states that do opt out lose federal education funds?

SECRETARY DUNCAN: So to be very, very clear -- and you guys can help to clear this up -- what we have always been about is high standards and college- and career-ready standards. And what we’re reacting to, as you guys may remember under No Child Left Behind, it’s not the intent, but we had about 20 states actually dummy down their standards to make politicians look good. And that’s bad for kids, it’s bad for the country, it’s terrible for education. But we need to have high international benchmark college- and career-ready standards. And so whether common or not, that’s less the issue; it’s more having high standards.

The Oklahoma example is a pretty interesting one. Just to give you a couple facts -- and I think sadly, this is not about education; this is about politics. So in Oklahoma, about 40 percent of high school graduates -- these are not the dropouts -- 40 percent of high school graduates have to take remedial classes when they go to college. Why? Because they weren’t ready -- 40 percent. About 25 percent of Oklahoma’s eighth-graders in math are proficient -- 25 percent. And other states locally are out-educating Oklahoma.

And if you go back to just a couple of months ago, this is what Governor Fallin said about higher standards -- I’m quoting her -- she said, “The standards” -- and I quote -- “outline what students need to be college- and career-ready. I want to be really clear” -- this is Governor Fallin -- “I want to be really clear: Common Core is not a federal program. It is driven and implemented by those states who choose to participate. It’s also not a federal curriculum. In fact, it’s not a curriculum at all. Local educators and school districts will still design the best lesson plans and choose appropriate textbooks, and will drive classroom learning.”

So what changed? Politics changed.

QUESTION: Governor Fallin has also said signing this legislation, said that there’s a possibility that her state could lose federal funding. Is that a realistic possibility?

SECRETARY DUNCAN: So, again, we are partnering with folks who have high standards. If people want to dummy down standards, that’s a very different thing. We partner with states whether they're in Common Core or have their own high standards. But where we will challenge status quo is when states dummy down standards.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, is that a yes, that states that pull out and don't have a similar set of standards could lose federal funding?

SECRETARY DUNCAN: If they do not have high -- again, I’m repeating myself. What we’re asking is that standards be high -- college- and career-ready -- not certified by us, but certified by the local institutions of higher education. And what we want to make sure is that our high school graduates -- we got a dropout problem we got to deal with. We want to make sure our high school graduates aren’t having to take remedial classes, burn up Pell grants, burn up student loans taking non-credit bearing. And right now, roughly 40 percent of those graduates in Oklahoma are having to do that. We don't think that's good for those young people, their families, or for the country.

Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org


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One thought on “U.S. Secretary of Education Blasts Oklahoma On Common Core

  1. From – Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education- Annual remediation report.
    ” Those who place in remedial courses in only one subject area… are as likely as anyone else to graduate.” 4,293 students in need of remediation failed to graduate in 6 years out of high school. 8,478 students not needing remediation, failed to graduate in 6 years. For a recent cohort of 18,244 freshmen.
    Oklahoma has more differences between high schools in state than differences with other states. Standardized tests with watered down cut scores just confuse the use of the term ” high standards “. Gov. Fallin appoints the committee that sets the cut scores.

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