OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — When lawmakers adopted legislation this year repealing Common Core education standards, they cited concerns that the federal government was attempting to influence Oklahoma’s public education policy.
Now, the state’s top educator is asking the U.S. Department of Education for a one-year extension of a 2012 waiver from No Child Left Behind guidelines, which she says has headed off even more onerous federal intrusion in Oklahoma’s schools. But that waiver — and its resulting federal money — may have been jeopardized when Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill repealing the English and math standards in June.
“Losing this flexibility would be akin to erasing incredible progress toward helping Oklahoma children build success — not just in the current school year, but for an entire generation and beyond,” Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi wrote in the Aug. 8 letter. “When I took office in 2011, Oklahoma had only just left the starting line in the race to more effective schools. Now in 2014, we are well around the track and rapidly advancing toward the finish line.”
If Oklahoma loses the waiver, it would place restrictions on 20 percent of about $500 million annual federal funding for local school districts that serve more than 681,000 students, according to state education officials. It was not immediately known when the federal education department will decide on the waiver.
Oklahoma lawmakers knew repealing Common Core might threaten the waiver, but it was a risk they were willing to take, said Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, which represents 35,000 Oklahoma school teachers.
“It is a two-sided coin,” Hampton said. “If we don’t get the waiver, we’re going to have more federal intrusion in our schools than ever. We certainly don’t need more federal control over our funding.”
Without the federal waiver, some of Oklahoma’s public schools could end up being labeled as “failing” or “needs improvement,” Oklahoma State School Boards Association executive director Shawn Hime said.
“Hopefully, calmer heads will prevail here,” Hime said. “Oklahoma schools need stability at this point. At the end of the day, our hope is that we are able to put the political rhetoric behind us.”
The Common Core standards were developed by a group of individual states as part of an initiative of the National Governors Association. Oklahoma adopted the standards in 2010; they were scheduled to take effect in the 2014-2015 school year.
But in signing the bill, Fallin, the former head of the association, said the federal government was using the standards to influence state education policy by tying funding to certain Common Core guidelines.
Oklahoma was among the first of 43 states that received a flexibility waiver from some provisions of the 2001 NCLB act in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed plans designed to improve the quality of education and educational outcomes for all students. One condition of the waiver is that academic standards for English and math must be “college- and career ready” by the time a student graduates from high school.
The standards must be common to a significant number of states, like Common Core, or approved by a state network of higher education institutions that certify students who meet the standards will not need remedial coursework in college.
But there has been growing concern among conservatives that the standards represent a federal takeover of state education.
Oklahoma’s public schools now will return to the academic standards that were in place before 2010, with a direction for state officials to develop new ones by 2016.
State education leaders have expressed concern that the old standards, known as Priority Academic Student Skills, provide only minimum academic criteria that students are expected to meet.
“We’re really concerned about the kids in the schoolhouse and how they’re affected,” said Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. “High standards are a good thing.”
The head of the education association noted that it’s going to be a tough grind, no matter what.
“This is a big ship we’re trying to turn around here,” Hampton said. “Teachers need to be in this process.”