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January 6, 2013

FLASHPOINT: Common Core standards should be common sense

INDIANAPOLIS — Years ago, when state officials and education experts came together to create new model standards for schools, they probably never expected it to be controversial. After all, most states’ education standards were incredibly weak.

While the former Indiana standards were stronger than those of many states, the materials Hoosier students learn in school do not fully prepare many of them for life after high school. Most people know our schools have a graduation rate problem, but many of the students who do graduate with our standard Core 40 diploma are not ready for the rigors of college. In fact, nearly 40 percent of Hoosier Core 40 graduates are required to take remediation classes when they enter Indiana’s two-year and four-year public institutions.

To address these needs, a group of state leaders and experts came together to improve standards for all students. They talked to universities to see what was expected from incoming freshmen. They consulted businesses to see what new entrants to the workforce ought to know. They made sure the standards were rigorous, clear, and concise. The result was the Common Core state standards.

The Common Core standards were so strong that 45 states, including Indiana in 2010, adopted them separately and voluntarily.

Years later, these standards that were developed by state leaders, without a hint of political motivation, are now being challenged, mostly for political reasons. And Indiana is ground zero for the assault.

Common Core opponents in Indiana started the attack by perpetuating the myth that because President Obama has chosen to tie the strong standards to various federal programs, these standards are a federal intrusion into states’ rights or local control. Others have said that Indiana’s old standards were better than the new Common Core.

All of this led to some legislators in the state Senate to file a bill banning the Common Core standards in Indiana.

Setting education standards in Indiana is intentionally a process that is not political. Hoosiers don’t want politicians deciding what our kids learn in school. They want experts in the field to develop those baseline standards.

That’s why the General Assembly grants the authority to set the standards to the State Board of Education. The legislature requires that they be “comparable to national and international academic standards.”

By that measure, Indiana’s old standards fall well short. According to the Indiana Education Roundtable, our workforce is the 42nd most educated among our 50 states. Internationally, we rank 60th out of 87 geographies. Couple that with our high remediation rates and you have strong evidence suggesting our standards could be better — for our students and for the competitiveness of our state. Unlike the current Indiana Academic Standards, the Common Core are internationally benchmarked against the standards of top-performing countries around the world.

Common Core fixes previous shortcomings by setting rigorous standards that ensure a child is mastering necessary material, not just memorizing it. It has been said that Indiana’s old standards were good, but they were a mile wide and an inch deep. The old standards expose students to everything but do little to ensure they  truly understand any of it. The Common Core are focused on targeting key materials students need to know, coherent so that student learning builds upon the previous grades, and rigorous to ensure students master the concepts and processes behind the information.

Indiana has worked hard to build one of the nation’s most attractive environments for job creation. By all analysis, state leaders have succeeded. If only our workforce were more prepared, Indiana would have even more to offer, bringing more companies and jobs to our state.

Like everything else, Common Core is not perfect. That’s why the experts who developed the standards gave states the flexibility to add their own materials on top of what the Common Core require, such as Indiana’s robust reading lists. And, of course, these standards are state minimums that local school corporations are always free to add to.

As the legislature attempts to roll back the progress that has been made to improve Indiana’s educational standards, remember that this debate should always focus on whether our children are being fully prepared for college and career.

The Common Core is common sense. And Stand for Children will work to defeat attempts to repeal these standards.

Stand for Children Indiana is an education advocacy organization that works to ensure every child graduates from high school prepared for college.

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