Indiana: Ground Zero in the Battle over the Common Core Standards

Indiana: Ground Zero in the Battle over the Common Core Standards

The state of Indiana could be poised to become the first state to fully withdraw from the Common Core standards; but in the battle that continues in the Hoosier state, Americans will see the strong political pressure placed upon parents, teachers, and taxpayers to conform to centralized education standards.

On Wednesday, the Indiana Republican-led state Senate approved a bill, by a vote of 35-13, that would fully withdraw the state from the highly controversial standards that many say is centralized planning for education. The Senate’s approval meant that it accepted changes by the Republican-controlled state House to SB 91. The bill now heads to Gov. Mike Pence (R) for his signature or veto.

According to NWI Times, the legislation requires the state board of education to adopt, by July 1st, college- and career-ready standards that are “the highest standards in the United States” and “maintain Indiana sovereignty.” The measure also states that Indiana must qualify for a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements and align with college entrance exams, which will soon be aligned with the Common Core standards.

If Indiana abandons the Common Core, it would be a significant reversal from the decision made by former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and the state’s former superintendent Tony Bennett – both strong supporters of the Common Core standards. Indiana was one of the earliest states to adopt Common Core, even though the state had just completed its latest scheduled revision of its existing standards, creating new math standards that received high praise but, in the end, were never used due to the adoption of Common Core. Furthermore, Indiana’s previous standards for both math and English Language Arts were rated higher than Common Core.

Indiana has already pulled out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), its Common Core testing consortium. It is the issue of Indiana’s own replacement standards, however, that is now creating a problem and has the state under fire from grassroots Common Core opponents.

As Alicia M. Cohn writes at Heritage Foundation, Indiana education officials released a set of draft academic standards at the end of February to several evaluators, namely, Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita at University of Arkansas; Terrence Moore, Professor at Hillsdale College; Ze’ev Wurman, Hoosier Institution Fellow; and Kathleen Porter-Magee of the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute.

The standards were, as Cohn writes, “universally panned.” Porter-Magee wrote:

Because of Indiana’s long history of setting clear and rigorous standards for English language arts, arguably no state was better positioned to customize [Common Core] in a way that made the expectations even stronger than the Core. And yet–remarkably and inexplicably–Indiana state officials have managed to do the opposite: draft ELA [English/language arts] standards that are worse than either of the documents they hope to replace.

For many Hoosiers, there is a strong concern, in fact, that Indiana’s “own” standards could have many remnants of Common Core among them, or simply more standards piled on top of Common Core standards.

Joy Pullmann at Heartland Institute noted the review of the “new” standards by Wurman, who helped to write California’s highly acclaimed former math standards.

“[T]his draft did not focus strongly enough on improving the glaring weaknesses of Common Core standards but instead made minor (and sometime negative) changes, and piled a whole lot of new content on top of already massive Common Core,” said Wurman. “To come up with a good, focused, and coherent set of standards will take much more effort than dump a pile of additional standards on top of the Common Core with little rhyme and reason.”

Common Core opponents have reason to worry when Indiana state education officials seem tied to the Common Core standards.

“We have said very clearly we are looking for the strongest, clearest, most appropriate standards, and the origin [of them] has not necessarily been something we’re willing to shy away from,” said Danielle Shockey, Indiana’s deputy superintendent of public instruction. “If the strongest language in a standard for computation happens to have come from the origin of Common Core, then that’s certainly something we want to talk about as we move forward.”

As Pullmann observes, there may be good reason for parents’ concern as Pence’s education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI) has been leading the Common Core rewrite, “but with a large number of hands on the wheel from Common Core supporters.”

In fact, parent activists found that the state’s panels to choose and evaluate draft standards are one-half to one-third comprised of Common Core supporters. In addition, eight individuals sit on both panels, a situation which requires some panel members to evaluate their own work.

“I think we’ve done a fair job [in Indiana] of separating ourselves from the governance issue, trying to drive sort of a roadblock, a wall, between the federal government and setting standards,” state Sen. Scott Schneider (R) said.

“We knew all along that there was always going to be a risk that Common Core could continue to be adopted, under a different name, or a percentage, and I think that lies at the feet of the governor because the governor appoints all the members of the state [school] board and by virtue of that, it is a governor’s directive,” he added.

Perceiving the reality of the pressure placed upon state leaders to move forward with Common Core, parent Heather Crossin of Hoosiers Against Common Core said, “Most of us thought we’d moved beyond the debate of whether we in Indiana should reject Common Core, but those in positions of power clearly do not agree.”

“At every turn, academics have been matched one-for-one by highly politicized Common Core supporters regardless of whether they have the appropriate qualifications,” Crossin added.

Stotsky, who had helped Indiana write its previous highly acclaimed standards, also addressed the issue of the qualifications of the panelists.

“There is no point in my evaluating the future work of a committee, bereft of a sufficient number of academically qualified high school English teachers, that cut-and-pasted Common Core’s ELA standards for grades 6-12 thinking they were better than Indiana’s own standards,” Stotsky wrote.

When Stotsky requested that she work with “academically qualified high school English teachers, assisted by one or two literary scholars in your colleges/universities (not education schools)” to write better standards, CECI’s Claire Fiddian-Green refused.

“[W]e remain confident in the qualifications of” the English language arts panels, she replied. “Therefore, we will not be reconstituting the panels.”

With that, Stotsky refused to participate, telling Pullmann that the panels discredited themselves by generating such shoddy work, a situation that, she said, demonstrated that they actually don’t know why Indiana’s prior standards were already better than Common Core.

“Do you know of a high school English teacher when told to come up with standards would cut and paste from anything?” Stotsky asked. “They have their own words and own ideas even if they agree with the gist of it. They would never cut and paste from any source. It would be a violation of their professional integrity.”