Fight against Common Core not over in Indiana

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The national math and education standards outlined in the Common Core are everywhere at Indianapolis' George S. Buck Elementary School.

Stapled packets of the standards meant to guide what students learn in each grade hang outside classroom doors, and individual guidelines are cut out and displayed in the hallways next to hand-drawn graphs colored in crayon.

A bill signed Monday by Gov. Mike Pence made Indiana the first state to revoke those standards, leaving what will replace them when the State Board of Education approves new standards before its July 1 deadline unclear.

"Everybody's at a standstill," George S. Buck Elementary School Principal Valerie Allen said.

How Indiana handles creating and implementing the new standards could provide a glimpse into the future of schools across the country. Lawmakers nationwide filed more than 200 bills on the standards this year alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Opponents say the guidelines, meant to put consistent and rigorous benchmarks in place across the country, were adopted without enough local input.

But making Pence's call for "standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high" a reality will take more than his signature.

Proposals for new standards still face criticism for being too similar to the Common Core, even after months of work by a panel of education officials and a series of public hearings. Only weeks remain before the State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposal April 28.

An internal Department of Education analysis of the current draft English standards for grades six through 12 shows that more than 90 percent contain at least edited parts from the Common Core, and that about 34 percent of standards for the younger grades are directly pulled from the national standards.

An English education expert called on by Pence to review the standards said the current version makes a "fool" out of the governor. Sandra Stotsky, a retired University of Arkansas professor, said she refuses to review any additional drafts too similar to the national standards.

"If you're asked to develop a new set of standards for English language arts because people don't want Common Core," Stotsky said, "you don't start with Common Core."

Part of the problem, says Department of Education spokesman David Galvin, is in the law that first directed the board to create new standards.

Legislation signed by Pence last year directs the Board of Education to "use the Common Core standards as the base model for academic standards" in order to maintain a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, a set of stringent guidelines put in place under former President George W. Bush.

The board has the flexibility to deviate from the Common Core if doing so doesn't put the waiver at risk.

"Folks keep talking about how (the draft) seems like Common Core or a watered-down version," Galvin said. "But when the legislation was established … it dictated, if you will, where the standards would go."

Indiana faces another unique challenge: The former state standards are similar to the Common Core, and those standards are being blended with the national standards in the new proposals.

"Indiana standards were to a degree somewhat embedded in Common Core, so it's hard to segregate out Common Core standards," said Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee. "They all kind of work together."

On top of that, Behning said standards that are too different could put students at risk of doing poorly on the ACT and SAT, which are both based on Common Core.

"We wanted to make sure Hoosier students are able to attend college outside Indiana," Behning said. The state can't move "so far from what everybody else is using that they would not be able to be successful on the ACT and SAT."

Teachers at George S. Buck anticipate some overlap with the old standards, and Allen said the school likely will use some Common Core books for elementary students in the fall.

But until the state board officially approves changes, teachers are left to guess what will fill the curriculum folders hung in the Indianapolis elementary school's halls.

"The sooner we know," Allen said, "the better."

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