State senator looks to overturn school standards

A Republican state senator is trying to pull Indiana out of the Common Core State Standards national education initiative, targeting the benchmarks as a costly program that would weaken the state's schools.

The effort to overturn the set of uniform math and reading benchmarks approved by the State Board of Education in 2010 is being opposed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and other groups that have supported the state's adoption of a school voucher program and expansion of charter schools.

Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, said Tuesday he wanted to withdraw Indiana from the Common Core because he believes previous state benchmarks were better and that that it will potentially cost millions of dollars for schools to implement. He said the national initiative has led to a loss of local involvement over school standards.

"Local input from parents, from teachers, from school boards, school districts, superintendents, when we adopt Common Core, we really lose that," Schneider said.

The math and reading benchmarks were developed by a national group of state school officials and have been adopted by 45 states. The standards have since been endorsed by the Obama administration and attacked by critics as basically nationalizing public schools.

The state Senate education committee is scheduled to hear up to four hours of testimony Wednesday on Schneider's bill. The teaching standards are now being used in Indiana's kindergarten and first grade classes, with all grades set to use them starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Common Core supporters argue it fixes shortcomings in Indiana's previous benchmarks and better allow the state to judge the academic progress of students compared to other states and countries.

Derek Redelman, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's vice president on education policy, said the group doesn't believe the Legislature should be making teaching curriculum decisions.

"If there are concerns about the standards, then we need to get at them … through a process that includes education professionals and the state Board of Education," Redelman said. "We think we ought to stick with that process."

Erin Tuttle said she went to Schneider with her concerns about Common Core after she became frustrated about how her third-grader son was being taught addition and subtraction at an Indianapolis parochial school that was using the standards to meet its state accreditation.

Tuttle said she complained to her son's teacher and principal before talking to the state Department of Education, which directed her to the developers of the standards — the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. She called her attempts to get answers like "finding a needle in a haystack."

"We think that parents who have problems or need questions answered need a short distance between the problem and the solution. The Common Core only makes that distance greater," said Tuttle, a leader of Hoosiers Against Common Core.

House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he didn't share many of the objections to the Common Core and thought many people didn't understand how the standards were developed.

Behning said organizers of the ACT and SAT exams were expecting students to meet those benchmarks.

"If we pull out of Common Core, Indiana's students are going to be at a significant disadvantage when it comes to college applications because they probably won't score as well on those exams," he said.

A similar bill from Schneider failed to advance past the Senate education committee last year, but panel Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he was inclined to change his vote to support the proposal after hearing concerns from many people over Common Core in recent months.

Kruse rejected arguments that the Legislature shouldn't get involved in the teaching standards.

"We have a book of a 1,500 pages of state regulations and laws for our public schools, so I think we already micromanage public schools," Kruse said. "I don't think another paragraph is going to hurt a whole lot."

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