News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 6, 2013

‘Why aren’t they ready for college?’

State hearings on national education standards draws strong support, opposition

INDIANAPOLIS — The deep divide over the Common Core State Standards for K-12 schools was on full display during a legislative hearing Monday that pitted education experts against each other.

During more than eight hours of testimony in front of a legislative oversight committee charged with evaluating the impact of Common Core, supporters and critics of the new classroom standards for math and English traded opinions, studies and sometimes pointed barbs.

Critics painted Common Core as an attempt by outside forces to nationalize education and lower classroom standards in Indiana, while supporters of Common Core defended them as critical to boosting Hoosier students’ chances to get into and through college and to compete on a global level.

At one point during the lengthy hearing, Jeffrey Zimba of the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners and one of the lead writers of the Common Core math standards, said Indiana’s old education standards were good but not good enough.

“The word ‘pizza’ occurs more … than the words ‘number line,’ ” said Zimba, referring to the frequency in which food was used to explain fractions to Indiana schoolchildren.

Indiana is one of 45 states to adopt the use of the Common Core State Standards since they were rolled out in 2009. The standards, which set expectations by grade level for what every child should learn across nation, were on track to be fully implemented in Indiana by the 2014-15 school year.

But that plan came to a halt earlier this year, when the Indiana General Assembly voted to “pause” Common Core to conduct hearings on its impact on Indiana schools. At least two more hearings will be conducted before the legislative oversight committee wraps up its work in November.

Monday’s hearing, which ran late into the evening, attracted a long line of proponents and opponents from in and out of Indiana. A vocal crowd of opponents, many wearing “Say NO to the Common Core” buttons, had to be admonished by the committee chairman, Republican state Sen. Dennis Kruse, to quiet their jeers, cheers and applause.

Among those who spoke against the Common Core standards was Jim Sturgis, head of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based organization that has led the campaign against Common Core since 2009. Sturgis faulted Common Core for many things, including what he said was the lack of public input in crafting the standards.

“They were developed behind closed doors by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”  Sturgis said.

Common Core supporters disputed that, saying the standards were developed through an exhaustive and public process launched in 2008 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, whose members were interesting in coming up with a set of common education standards for math and English for schools in every state.  

The differences in opinion about how well those Common Core standards would work were stark during the hearing.

Bill Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute and former U.S. assistant education secretary under President George W. Bush, called the Common Core math standards inferior to what Indiana had in place.

“The [Common Core] standards are mediocre. …” Evers told committee members. “It’s worth returning to the Indiana standards.”

But comments like that prompted state Sen. Carlin Yoder, a Republican from Middlebury, to ask why there was a such a high number of Indiana high school graduates, including more than 40 percent of students who graduate with the college-prep “Core 40” degree, who need to take remedial math and English at the college level.

“Then why aren’t they ready for college?’’ Yoder asked experts who claimed Indiana’s past education standards were good enough for Indiana students.

Among the many people who testified at Monday’s hearing was Pam Horne, dean of admissions at Purdue University. Horne said she was concerned about Indiana pulling away from the Common Core standards while other states were working to implement them.

“There is not a wall around Indiana,” Horne said. “As almost the entire country adopts (Common Core)  we do not want our kids who move to other states to be behind their peers, but rather to be well-prepared for the rigorous curriculum the standards support. And for those who stay in Indiana for higher education, we want them to be as competitive as their classmates from other states.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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