March 24, 2014

What now for academic standards in Oklahoma?

The Common Core State Standards were approved by the Legislature in 2010 and supported by State Superintendent Janet Barresi and Gov. Mary Fallin. Schools and teachers have been trained and are putting them in place. Money has been spent.

Fallin leads the organization that helped write the guidelines – the National Governors Association.

Nevertheless, on Monday, a Senate committee voted, 11-0, on a bill to repeal the Common Core standards.

If the Senate approves House Bill 3399 and Fallin signs it into law, as she said she might, Oklahoma would become the second state, after Indiana, to repeal Common Core.

What would happen next in terms of degree of rigor and effectiveness of state standards remains unclear.

Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, author of HB 3399 on the Senate side, said the bill gives the Oklahoma Board of Education until 2015 to adopt new standards that push students to be “college and career ready” and requires the education department to begin implementing those standards by the 2016-2017 school year.

The state is now operating with Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards, but after this school year is scheduled to switch over to Oklahoma Academic Standards, which incorporate Common Core standards in English/language arts and math. The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s attorneys would determine if the Oklahoma Academic Standards conflict with the new law, Brecheen said.

His bill addresses critics’ concerns by prohibiting the board from entering into agreements with federal or private groups that would cede or limit state control of academic standards. Standards lay out what students should learn at each grade level.

“We are putting up a firewall that protects our students, protects our classrooms, protects our standards and our assessments from any national control or standardization,” Brecheen said. “We will, in the end, be better for it.”

The Common Core standards have come under fire for various reasons, ranging from allegations of federal interference in state education to a lack of transparency in the standards-making process. Throughout the growing criticism, some conservative leaders, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have maintained their support of the benchmarks as a way to improve student performance.

The state education department also has defended them, saying their source and impact were being misrepresented.

Then, last year, the winds began to shift.

On Monday, Fallin praised the Senate Education Committee’s passage of a repeal bill.

“I support passing legislation that increases classroom rigor and accountability while guaranteeing that Oklahoma public education is protected from federal interference,” Fallin said in a news release. “While House Bill 3399 is still a work in progress, my hope is that it will accomplish these goals and ultimately be signed into law. I appreciate our legislators working diligently and carefully on this important matter.”

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard criticized legislators’ reversal on Common Core standards – first mandating them, then trying to repeal the mandate after the state and school districts have spent time and money preparing for them.

“Where do we go from here? What are we supposed to do now?” Ballard asked. “The state Legislature told us to do Common Core and we’ve invested all of that money and training. What do we do to abruptly and suddenly drop it? It’s no respect for common education. You can’t just pull the plug on something that quick, particularly without any good reason.”

Ballard expressed support for the standards.

“I support Common Core and there’s no reason not to. Common Core has high standards, and we need high standards,” he said.

The education department issued a statement with a tone of determination to ensure tougher standards are enacted. Some Common Core critics say the standards were leaving their children worn out.

“What is of utmost importance, and what cannot and has not been lost in this debate, is the need for stronger academic standards,” the education department’s statement said, adding, “Our teachers, administrators and the Oklahoma State Department of Education stand poised to ensure higher standards and increased rigor within the guidelines set out by state lawmakers and reflecting the will of the people of our state. At the end of the day, what’s important is to have college and career-ready standards that are free from federal intrusion.”

In Indiana on Monday, Gov. Mike Pence signed a repeal of Common Core into Law. But critics are suggesting Indiana’s new rewritten standards look too similar to Common Core.

Ballard said he hopes new standards that are essentially Common Core standards will be adopted by the Oklahoma education board but doesn’t hold out much hope it will happen.

-Clifton Adcock
Clifton Adcock can be reached at

Education Reporter Nate Robson can be reached at

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