A decision to drop Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma has left a wake of questions about what will happen in the two years it takes to implement new standards.

Will dropping the standards change what students learn in the classroom or how teachers teach? What will the new standards look like?

School plans were thrown into flux after Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill Thursday 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.

In explaining her move, Fallin said federal overreach has tainted what was once a state-led initiative to create rigorous standards meant to ensure students are ready for college or the workforce.

“The words ‘Common Core’ in Oklahoma are now so divisive that they have become a distraction that interferes with our mission of providing the best education possible for our children,” Fallin said in a written statement.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi came out in support of Fallin’s decision late Thursday, marking a change from her previous stance supporting the standards.

“At one time, as it was emerging from Republican and conservative ideas from individual states, I did support Common Core,” Barresi said in a news release. “As it has become entangled with federal government, however, Common Core has become too difficult and inflexible.”

Here’s a look at what the decision means:

What changes will your child see because of the repeal?

The effects could vary depending on how far along your district was in transitioning to Common Core. Districts ready to implement the standards must revert to old standards, while those not prepared will see few or no changes for now.

Districts should be able to keep using current textbooks and class materials. Teachers trained to use Common Core approaches in trying to instill a deeper understanding of content in students could still use some of those methods under new standards.
The biggest change could be what students are expected to do during testing.

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.

It’s unclear what this will mean for standardized testing since the last year PASS was fully implemented on a state assessment was 2010.

Oklahoma has been using a hybrid test combining PASS and Common Core standards, and was preparing to implement a test fully aligned to the Common Core starting next school year.

Oklahoma does not have a test right now that fully relies on PASS standards.

“We’re going to have to cobble a new test together,” state Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said.
It was not immediately clear how the new test will be built.

Q: What will new standards look like?

It’s too early to say, but the law signed Thursday is written in a way that requires the new standards to be compared to Common Core to ensure they are not the same.

State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who helped author the bill to repeal Common Core State Standards, said there could be similarities between the benchmarks. But “if we just put in the same standards again, we would probably see the same results,” Nelson said of the repeal. “It’s possible we could get newer, better standards.”

In Indiana, proposed new standards have been criticized for being too similar to Common Core.

Some Oklahoma lawmakers who support Common Core have said they believe the same thing may happen here.

Q: How much will replacing Common Core cost?

Drafting new standards for math and English could run at least $62,000, according to an Oklahoma State Department of Education estimate. That’s based on the $31,086 price tag for creating the current new social studies standards, which were not part of Common Core.

The state also has spent $2.5 million on training and professional development since 2010, including on Common Core. That amount would have been spent on training even without Common Core.

The education department may also have to spend $3.8 million to hire new staff if Oklahoma loses its federal No Child Left Behind waiver as a result of dropping Common Core.

The agency estimates about 22 new employees will be needed to monitor schools’ academic progress and provide training and support to districts as required by NCLB regulations.

An extension of the state’s waiver is pending, and a decision from the U.S. Department of Education is expected by the end of June.

Q: What would losing the No Child Left Behind waiver mean for your child?

A condition of No Child Left Behind is implementing rigorous standards by 2014-2015 to ensure students are prepared for college or the workforce.

The standards may fall short of that threshold, meaning the U.S. Department of Education could revoke the waiver.

That would mean about $27 million, or 20 percent, of Oklahoma’s federal Title I funding for high-poverty schools would be set aside for transportation and tutoring programs. The money is generally used to fund reading programs and hire teachers who work with students in low-income schools.

Lawmakers and education experts fear setting aside the money could result in layoffs. That has happened in states without a waiver.

Schools with fewer than 100 percent of their students hitting proficiency benchmarks for English and math for five consecutive years could also be forced to restructure. Options include replacing the principal and half the teaching staff, closing the school and sending students to better performing schools, or converting the school into a charter.

It’s unclear if this will all come about.

Restructuring of schools is considered a worst-case scenario. The U.S. Department of Education could opt to give states more time if they show commitment to drafting new standards.

The state education department 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, Pemberton said. The U.S. Department of Education would likely review the standards, too.

Fallin and Barresi have said with 39 percent of incoming college freshmen taking remedial courses in 2012, action is needed make sure students are better prepared after high school graduation.

Q: In the end, what drove Fallin’s decision?

Fallin expressed support for Common Core last year, but since has seen grass-roots opposition mount in Oklahoma and nationally over fears, especially among Republicans, that the standards are a Trojan horse for federal control. Even many teachers and Democrats grew wary, saying Common Core would bring more testing. Joe Dorman, the Democratic candidate for governor, opposes Common Core.

The federal government did not play a role in writing the standards; they were drafted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association and adopted by states. Oklahoma did so in 2010.

The U.S. Department of Education has used them as an incentive to award federal funding to states. Oklahoma has competed for that funding, but has not received any yet.

In her statement Thursday, Fallin linked Common Core to President Barack Obama.

“Unfortunately, federal overreach has tainted Common Core. President Obama and Washington bureaucrats have usurped Common Core in an attempt to influence state education standards.

“We cannot ignore the widespread concern of citizens, parents, educators and legislators who have expressed fear that adopting Common Core gives up local control of Oklahoma’s public schools.”

Reach Nate Robson at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org.

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