Indiana unlikely to shift from school standards

Some parents and others have succeeded in stirring up debate in the Statehouse over whether Indiana should withdraw from uniform reading and math education standards that most states have adopted.

It seems, however, that they'll have a much more difficult time winning their cause against the Common Core State Standards education initiative.

A bill that could be voted on by the state Senate in the coming week would suspend implementation of the benchmarks at Indiana schools until after the state Board of Education has finished a new review of the standards it adopted in 2010.

The Republican senator sponsoring the bill originally sought to pull Indiana from the Common Core, joining with other opponents in arguing that the previous state benchmarks were better and that local involvement in setting school standards has suffered.

Hundreds of Common Core opponents attended a Statehouse rally last month on the day a Senate committee held a public hearing on the issue, but their arguments haven't persuaded the chairman of the House Education Committee to agree with them.

Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he wouldn't support any effort that would delay implementation of the standards that tell schools and teachers what students should learn during each grade.

Behning said he believed such decisions shouldn't be made by the General Assembly, but by the state Board of Education, which is made up of the state superintendent of public instruction and 10 members appointed by the governor.

"There are 150 legislators and each one of us would probably have a different way of putting together standards for the state," he said.

The Board of Education this month unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming its support of the math and reading benchmarks, which were developed by a national group of state school officials and have been adopted by 45 states. 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.

Erin Tuttle, a leader of Hoosiers Against Common Core, said she began researching the standards a couple of years ago after she became frustrated about how her third-grade son was being taught addition and subtraction at an Indianapolis parochial school that was using the standards to meet its state accreditation.

She said lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure the best education for Indiana's children and that she can't understand why supporters of the standards oppose a proposal for a new round of public hearings around the state.

"I think it is the responsibility of the state Legislature to make sure that the people who are charged with curriculum, standards and testing are doing a complete and through vetting before committing our tax dollars to something that could be moving us in the wrong direction," Tuttle said.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and other groups that have backed the state's private school voucher program and expansion of charter schools oppose the push to withdraw Indiana from the math and reading benchmarks. Democratic state schools superintendent Glenda Ritz, who took office last month, has said she wants more review of the standards but hasn't called for major changes.

Board of Education member Neil Pickett said he believed the standards underwent a full review before they were adopted in 2010 and that help ensure schools are preparing children to compete in a global economy. Pickett, an adviser to former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, said the benchmarks only set what material students should master in their classes.

"Making those common across the country makes perfect sense," he said. "It's not a rejection or an imposition on local control. It still affords a tremendous amount of flexibility and autonomy to states and local entities."

Bill sponsor Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, and other Common Core critics maintain the initiative has led to a loss of local involvement over school standards. Some point to the Obama administration's support for the standards as basically nationalizing public schools.

Behning, the House education chairman, said that federal endorsement has fueled criticism of the standards.

"I wish they wouldn't have done it, but that doesn't inherently make Common Core bad," said Behning, a leading advocate of many of the school overhaul proposals adopted by the Legislature in recent years.

Tuttle said she and other opponents intend to keep up their fight regardless of this year's outcome. She said she expected more parents to get involved as schools across the country begin using what she called a one-size-fits-all approach for teaching.

"It will eventually fail," she said. "It's just how long will it go on until it does fail? How much damage will it do to the students, how much money will we waste?"

Pickett said adopting the standards was a voluntary process that came about without any coercion.

"I think we need to move on," he said. "I think we need to get on to the other important things on improving the outcomes of our schools and helping ensure that our kids are ready for work and college."

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