Monday, May 13, 2013

Indiana Backs Down on Common Core


Indiana is the first state to withdraw from the common core state standards. Previously, there were four states that had not adopted the standards, but of those that had done so, Indiana is the first to back down. Technically, they have only “suspended” their CCSS efforts for further study so it is possible that this will just be a delay and not an actual withdrawal, but the politics around this in Indiana suggest that this may be the beginning of the end of CCSS there.

Various state leaders have made noises about withdrawing from CCSS to re-embrace their previous low educational standards, and some (e.g., Alabama) have already pulled out of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing, but Indiana is the only one to act on their second thoughts.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence gave several reasons for the suspension, including the added costs. I’ve written about that issue in this space before, so it should be clear that I’m sympathetic to that problem. Many states, perhaps Indiana being one of them, adopted these standards without much forethought, and now are trying to implement without much real financial support either. That may be a good way to drive teachers crazy, but it won’t help kids learn.

Most of Governor Pence’s concerns seem to be about states rights, rather than learning. He apparently doesn’t like the federal government poking its nose into Indiana business. This is the same reason Virginia and Nebraska stayed out in the first place; the idea that these standards  emanated from President Obama and not from the states that combined to develop and implement them. I admit that I don’t have expertise on states rights, but I do know – Indiana politics aside — that Obama wasn't the source of these standards. That makes this concern more of a political wedge issue than an education concern. 

Also, I remember the state fights against the No Child Left Behind law during the last administration. The Supreme Court, a conservative court, was quite clear that states could be exempt from federal education mandates as long as they refused to accept the federal education money—which in Indiana’s case is more than $300 million per year that Governor Pence would need to send back. (I might not understand the ins and outs of political power, but I’ll bet you a quarter that Governor Pence for all of his enthusiastic independence from Washington would sooner outlaw basketball in Indiana before he’d that much money back to DC).

When Virginia’s Republican governor rejected the CCSS originally, he made the same state’s rights claims. He had been for the standards until he found out the Obama administration wanted them too, so for him it had become an issue of states rights (surprising how it sounds more like expediency). But the Virginia governor also indicated that the CCSS standards had been reviewed carefully and rejected because they were no higher than Virginia’s educational standards. I’ve written about that before, and it is a silly claim that doesn’t bear scrutiny. I have no idea whether Virginia or Indiana should adopt common core or cling to the lower standards, but pretending to not be able to tell the difference is embarrassing.


Indiana is the first state to withdraw from the common core state standards. Previously, there were four states that had not adopted the standards, but of those that had done so, Indiana is the first to have backed down. Technically, they have only “suspended” their CCSS efforts for further study so it is possible that this will just be a delay and not an actual withdrawal, but the politics around this in Indiana suggest that this is likely the beginning of the end of CCSS there.

Various state leaders have made noises about withdrawing from CCSS to re-embrace their previous low educational standards, and some (e.g., Alabama) have already pulled out of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing, but Indiana is the only one to actually take action on their second thoughts.

Indiana Governor Mike Spence gave several reasons for the suspension, including the added costs. I’ve written about that issue in this space before, so it should be clear that I’m sympathetic to that problem. Many states, perhaps Indiana being one of these, adopted the standards without much forethought, and now are trying to implement without much real financial support.  That may be a good way to drive teachers crazy, but it won’t likely be sufficient to help kids learn.

Most of Governor Pence’s concerns seem to be about states rights. He doesn’t like the federal government poking is nose into Indiana business. This is the same reason Virginia and Nebraska stayed out in the first place; the idea that these standards somehow emanated from President Obama rather than from the states that combined to develop and implement them. I admit that I don’t have real expertise on states rights, but I do know – Indiana politics aside — that Obama was not the source of these standards. That makes that more a political wedge issue than an education one. 

Also, I remember the state fights against the No Child Left Behind law during the last administration. The Supreme Court, a conservative court, was quite clear that states could be exempt from federal education mandates as long as they refused to accept the federal education money—which in Indiana’s case is more than $300 million per year that Governor Pence would need to send back. (I might not understand the ins and outs of political power, but I’ll bet you a quarter that Governor Pence for all of his enthusiastic rhetorical independence from Washington would outlaw basketball in Indiana before he’d send any of that money back to DC any time soon).

When Virginia’s Republican governor rejected the CCSS originally, he made the same state’s rights claims. He had wanted the standards until he found out the Obama administration wanted them to, so for him it had become an issue of states rights. But the Virginia governor also indicated that the CCSS standards had been reviewed carefully and rejected because they were no higher than Virginia’s standards. I’ve written about that before, too. It is a silly claim that doesn’t bear scrutiny.

Now Indiana is going to review the standards to see whether CCSS are better than what Indiana has aimed for in the past. I wonder if they’ll pay attention to the text complexity requirements that make almost all of the reading standards markedly harder than any previous standards. I wonder if they’ll pay attention to the disciplinary literacy standards for secondary students that require students to read science differently than they read history and literature.


Virginia ignored these differences and then concluded that they didn’t exist. I wonder if the upcoming Indiana review will ignore these stubborn facts, as well. Reject the standards, Governor, if you see some political advantage, you have the power to do so. Just don't mislead Indiana parents with claims that past Indiana standards are as high as the standards you are taking a pause on. They're not. 

2 comments:

Drinda Williams said...

Frustrated, outraged, sad...I am just not sure what I feel as I read this, Dr. Shanahan. And I don't even live in Indiana! When I think about the CCSS, I visualize great teachers across our country, with shoulders against a common wheel, pushing in the same direction. What a lot of potential that holds for our children and for our nation! Even as I read the headline of this post, I was building my case as to why Indiana's move is a bad idea. As I read through your comments, I see every one one of my arguments clearly articulated. I just hope educators, parents, colleges and employers get to work and thwart the governor's plan. Come on, Indiana--don't be derailed by political roadblocks!

Tim Shanahan said...

Drinda--

I feel your pain. What's important to remember is that this opposition is not about the standards themselves, it is not about teachers or even what might be best for kids. It is about political power--who has it, who wants it, and who should have it. I'm not saying those political issues don't affect us or don't matter, but they have nothing to say about the educational issues that we are all working hard at.

I must admit I have been surprised that there has not been much (any?) debate in the educational community about the soundness of the standards in terms of pedagogy. I have even been surprised that there hasn't been more discussion among employers and universities about the soundness of the new goals. I suspect that whatever legitimate educational issues may someday emerge, part of the silence is the deep sense held by so many of us that our current standards have not been satisfactory, that whatever the faults of common core, it definitely takes us in a better direction (we can make corrections later).

The politicians are checking out the standards to see if it is an issue that arouses strong public response (that can then be exploited by the politicos to use towards their own purposes). If it does, there will be more states following Indiana. If there isn't much response, Indiana itself might scramble back onto the train. Time will tell.