Indiana on Monday became the first state to formally withdraw from the Common Core education standards in a move that did little to appease critics of the national program, who contend the state is simply stripping the "Common Core" label while largely keeping the benchmarks.
Indiana was among 45 states that in recent years adopted Common Core standards spelling out what students should be learning in math and reading at each grade level. Some conservatives have since criticized the initiative as a top-down takeover of local schools, and in signing legislation Monday to pull Indiana from the program, Republican Gov. Mike Pence trumpeted the move as a victory for state-level action.
"I believe when we reach the end of this process there are going to be many other states around the country that will take a hard look at the way Indiana has taken a step back, designed our own standards and done it in a way where we drew on educators, we drew on citizens, we drew on parents and developed standards that meet the needs of our people," Pence said.
The state began moving away from Common Core last year, when Indiana lawmakers "paused" its implementation. This year, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a measure requiring the State Board of Education to draft new benchmarks for students.
The draft for those standards, put out for review last month, has already drawn skepticism from Common Core critics, including an analyst hired by Pence to assess the new program. That analyst, retired University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky, says the proposal is just too similar to Common Core.
Stotsky released an internal Indiana Department of Education report that found that more than 70 percent of the standards for sixth through 12th grade are directly from Common Core, and about 20 percent are edited versions of the national standards. About 34 percent of English standards for kindergarten through fifth grade were taken straight from the national standards, and an additional 13 percent were edited.
Stotsky called the proposal a "grand deception." The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on it on April 28.
"It makes a fool of the governor," Stotsky said. "The governor is being embarrassed by his own Department of Education if the final version is too close to Common Core."
Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association and state education superintendents. Indiana adopted the standards in 2010 under then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican. But by 2012, tea party anger had engulfed the national education standards and conservative anger over the requirements helped turn Bennett out of office.
Rumblings of dissent have popped up across the country. More than 200 bills on the national standards were introduced this year and about half would slow or halt their implementation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Oklahoma is among states considering implementing different standards. A state Senate panel voted Monday in favor of a measure that would effectively halt the use of Common Core.
The Common Core replaced a patchwork of varying standards from state to state, and supporters say it gives both consistency and academic rigor.
Experts on both sides of the fiery debate have said the Common Core standards are strikingly similar to ones previously used in Indiana — and any program the state adopts as an alternative is unlikely to be much different.
Even the original author of the measure removing Indiana from the national standards, state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Carmel, pulled his name from the bill at the last minute this month after learning that other lawmakers had altered the measure to require the state to still meet federal requirements so as not to lose federal funding.
"What you're seeing is unsurprisingly pretty closely aligned to the Common Core," said Michael Brickman, national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank. "The core of the Common Core is still very much in place."