By Ted Stanton Special to the Democrat
March 13, 2014
Legislative critics are digging in again with half a dozen bills this session aimed at eliminating or eviscerating use of the Common Core by schools across Oklahoma. If they succeed they will harm our students and our state.
Over 40 states have adopted the Core despite opponents’ cries that the Core represents the first step in a federal government takeover of local control of education. The anti-Core campaign is built largely on two principal claims, and both run counter to the facts: The facts are, the Core wasn’t written by federal bureaucrats and Core rules don’t tell teachers how to teach.
What the Core does do is lay out what educators from across the country believe students should know, and when they should learn it. Note that the two complaints don’t have much to do with how we can give Oklahoma students the quality education they deserve. The push for a common body of knowledge was an initiative by the Council of Chief State School Officers — all state and/or local officials, not federal officials — and the National Governors Association. The standards, written not by federal officials but by panels of educators drawn from all 50 states, describe what students should know at each level as they work their way through grade school and high school. How teachers get their students there is left to local school boards and school districts. The Core foes’ cries of concern are reflected in all those bills being introduced in Oklahoma and several other states. The latest came just a few days ago from Oklahoma state Sen. Josh Brecheen of Bryan County and Sen. Anthony Sykes, and it’s similar to bills being considered in several states. The Brecheen-Sykes bill would order the state Department of Education to remove curriculum alignment with the K-12 Common Core standards, which now make up the Oklahoma K-12 standards. It would also ban the state from contracting with any agency or entity in any way that cedes state control over content, teaching or testing. That suggests that Oklahoma shun all policies or practices developed out of the state, which would deprive our students of the benefit of any educational advances in the rest of the country or the world. Amid the shouts of criticism, strong support for the Core has come from a wide range of people at many public and private levels who are particularly concerned about how Oklahoma students rank in comparison with those in other states. While a recent highly regarded “Quality Counts” report in Education Week magazine rated Oklahoma’s standards now as among the best in the nation, it put our students’ test scores at the other end of the scale. Only 13 percent of Oklahoma students who took advanced-placement tests reached proficient levels, half the national average. Reading and math scores were disturbing, too: 30 percent of fourth graders proficient in reading, 36 percent in math; for 8th graders, 28 percent proficient in reading, 25 percent in math, all 13 to 27 percentage points below student scores nationally and in our neighboring states. Former Gov. David Boren, now the University of Oklahoma president, has campaigned strongly for the Core in recent weeks. He has published full page newspaper ads and written opinion pieces all urging school districts not to dump the Core. Paul Risser, former chancellor of Oklahoma’s higher education system, backed the Core powerfully in a column in the Daily Oklahoman noting our low rank compared with other states in enabling our citizens to reach a higher economic status. Those with more education generally gain higher earning power, he said. The state Chamber of Commerce, lauding the Common Core, stresses the importance of a well-educated workforce in long-term economic growth. It says pushing students to benchmark with students in 44 other states ensures our students can compete nationally for jobs or college.
The two top officers of the conservative-leaning Thomas Fordham Foundation wrote that the Core standards are “educationally solid, rigorous and traditional, one might even say conservative.” They urged that the Core not be abandoned. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called Oklahoma Core critics “short-sighted” and the standards “miles better” than most of what they replace.
Dr. Jason Simeroth, Durant ISD Superintendent, has praised the increased attention to writing and critical thinking in all courses across the curriculum. He says that Core standards have made the district’s educational program more rigorous, that DISD school reports attest to its success and that teachers “have adapted well to the mandated curriculum.”
The Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts superintendents just last week praised the Core, saying it’s “needed to ensure that high school graduates are ready to enroll in college or immediately enter the workforce.”
State legislators must resist the pressure to kill the Core because it will better prepare our graduates and thus strengthen our economy.