Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation making Oklahoma the third state to repeal the Common Core education standards, saying the federal government's attempt to influence state education policy is reason enough to abolish the math and English guidelines that had been scheduled to take effect in the upcoming school year.
The bill, overwhelmingly passed in the House and Senate on the final day of the 2014 Legislature, requires the state to return to old standards in place before 2010 and calls for new ones to be developed by 2016. It requires all new standards and revisions to be subject to legislative review.
"We are very capable as Oklahomans of developing our own Oklahoma standards to make sure that our children receive the highest quality education possible in our state," Fallin said after signing the bill Thursday.
The Common Core standards are part of an initiative of the National Governors Association — currently chaired by Fallin — to outline what students are expected to know by each grade level and were adopted on a state-by-state basis as part of an effort to improve the readiness of high school graduates. They have been adopted by more than 40 other states, but there has been growing concern, especially among grass-roots conservatives, that the standards represent a federal takeover of state education.
Fallin tried to placate those concerns in December by signing an executive order stating Oklahoma would be responsible for deciding how to implement the standards, but it continued to be a divisive issue in the state.
After Indiana — one of the first states to introduce Common Core — repealed the standards in March, supporters and critics said they had been replaced with new standards that varied little from the federal guidelines. Similarly in South Carolina, where the standards were dropped last month but the changes don't take place until the 2015-2016 school year, Common Core supporters have suggested they expect little change from the standards when state-devised rules are introduced. A bill to repeal the standards is on the governor's desk in Missouri.
Nationally, opposition to the once below-the-radar standards is multidimensional. They are the cause of a split in the Republican Party between the business-backed Chamber of Commerce and conservatives concerned about the loss of local control in schools. Meanwhile teachers' unions, traditionally part of the Democratic base, have complained about a lack of training for teachers and other aspects of how the standards have been implemented.
The federal government has offered some incentives to states that adopt college and career ready standards such as Common Core. Fallin said "it's a possibility" that repeal of the standards could affect education dollars received by the state.
Former supporter of the Common Core standards, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi, praised the repeal.
"As it has become entangled with federal government ... Common Core has become too difficult and inflexible," Barresi said.
The more rigorous standards had been supported by the business community, including the politically powerful State Chamber.
Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said Fallin's decision to sign the bill "is a massive disappointment" to educators, administrators and business leaders who have tried to develop internationally benchmarked but locally controlled academic standards.
"Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature have reneged on their promise to Oklahoma's students, bending to political hysteria at the expense of our children and the quality of our future workforce," Neal said.
The Oklahoma Academic Standards, which are aligned with Common Core standards in English and mathematics, were scheduled to be reflected in tests administered to students next year, and more than 60 percent of the school districts in the state already have aligned curriculum with the new standards, according to state education officials.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said Fallin's decision will cause chaos as schools prepare for a new academic year.
"This decision is not good for Oklahoma's schools, and it's not good for Oklahoma's kids," he said.
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