Common Core debate: Be careful what you pay for

It’s often noted that the politics of the Common Core State Standards make for odd bedfellows. Disagreements over the standards may also be putting a chill on some intimate political relationships.

You could watch this play out on Twitter as Derek Redelman, vice president for education of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, commented during a recent hearing of the legislative study committee evaluating the Common Core.

The chamber supports the standards, which Indiana adopted in 2010. But a lot of Republicans in the legislature have swallowed the tea party line that they are a federal takeover of the schools – or worse. Early this year, the legislature voted to “pause” the implementation of the standards and study their effectiveness and cost.

On Tuesday, the study committee was supposed to be considering a report by the state Office of Management and Budget on the cost of implementing the standards. But testimony veered off into the usual anti-Core rhetoric, and some lawmakers followed.

Redelman was tweeting his frustration.

Rep Rhoads trying to downplay OMB testimony. Consistently, the only info she finds credible is from CommonCore opposition. #closedminds.

Rhoads is Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, who in 2010 ousted long-time Democratic House member Paul Robertson thanks in part to at least $23,000 in campaign contributions from Indiana Business for Responsive Government, the chamber’s political action committee.

Sen Schneider now joining Rep Rhoads in questioning OMB findings on CommonCore. Apparently, OMB report does not fit their storyline.”

Schneider is Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis. He edged Democrat Tim Delaney in one of the closest Senate races of 2012. According to campaign finance reports, the chamber gave at least $15,000 to Schneider and nothing to Delaney.

Former Rep Cindy Noe encourages state to “walk away from CommonCore.” Funny. Voters did that to her last fall.

Indeed, Noe, a Republican, lost her 2012 re-election bid in an overwhelmingly GOP year — despite nearly $30,000 in contributions from the chamber.

One conclusion to draw is that, whatever their faults, Indiana legislators aren’t bought and paid for. They don’t seem to feel a need to, as the saying goes, dance with who brung them.

But for the chamber, the lesson might be that it’s time to be a little more discriminating when it comes to backing candidates. If the business group is serious about supporting education, it ought to be looking for credible allies on both sides of the aisle.

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Political context explains shaky support for Common Core

One of the great mysteries of education politics is the way the near-universal support for the Common Core State Standards has come under siege, primarily from the tea-party right but also from the left. Jeremy Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States, made some sense of it this week in a policy chat sponsored by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Anderson pointed out that most of the governors and chief state school officers who were behind the Common Core movement are no longer in office. They’ve been replaced by newbies who don’t have ownership of the standards and, in some cases, are worried about political blowback. And state legislators, who weren’t much involved in the Common Core push to begin with, have had their heads spun by the dizzying storm of claims and counterclaims about the standards.

More than half the states elected new governors in 2002, Anderson said; and 25 of those governors were re-elected in 2006. Others, like Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, were elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. Those governors and their chief state school officers were the constituency for Common Core. Under the No Child Left Behind law, they watched their states try to measure progress against a mish-mash of standards, some rigorous and some not. They decided a national effort was in order.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced plans for Common Core in 2009, and 46 states almost immediately signed on. But it would take several years to create the standards, and several more to phase them in. They wouldn’t take effect until 2014.

“That’s the reality of what we deal with in education,” Anderson said. “These things take time. It’s a culture change.” Continue reading

Core confusion

A key question rarely got asked this spring as Indiana legislators debated whether to stick with the Common Core State Standards initiative: What do teachers think?

Now we’ve got an answer. According to the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s teachers overwhelmingly support the standards.

The AFT released results from a nationwide teacher survey on Common Core last weekend at the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association. It found that 75 percent of teachers support their states’ decisions to adopt the standards.

On the other hand, many teachers said their schools aren’t doing enough to help them prepare. And more than four in five back AFT President Randy Weingarten’s call for a one-year moratorium on high-stakes testing based on the standards. Of course, Indiana teachers may or may not agree with teachers in other states.

The AFT survey included 800 teachers in the 45 states that have adopted Common Core and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. It was conducted in March, around the time Indiana lawmakers were debating whether to put the brakes on the standards.

The legislature finally approved House Bill 1427, which calls for a “pause” implementing the standards Continue reading

In defense of Common Core

Indiana is one of 45 states that have joined the Common Core State Standards initiative, an effort to create guidelines for what students should learn at each grade level in math and English. It’s not like we’ve gone out on a limb here.

But some lawmakers want Indiana to become the first state to leave the fold. Senate Bill 193, sponsored by Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, would overturn the State Board of Education’s 2010 endorsement of Common Core and prohibit Indiana from rejoining. The Senate Education and Career Development Committee will consider the bill Wednesday.

The politics of the issue are very odd, bringing together tea-party types and some liberals. Critics on the right – and some are very far to the right — argue that Common Core is a federal takeover of education. They don’t like it because President Obama supports it. Critics on the left conflate the standards with excessive testing and accountability. They are suspicious of anything backed Tony Bennett, Jeb Bush and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

All this makes for a fun side show, but the real question should be: Will students be helped or hurt if Indiana jettisons the standards? This time, Bennett and Bush are on the right side.

First, Common Core isn’t a federal takeover. It has from the start been an initiative of the states, working through the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They came together around the idea that it made little sense, if education is a national priority, to have 50 different sets of standards that vary widely in strength and clarity.

As Terry Spradlin of the Center on Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, told me: “Are the learning needs of children in Indiana really different from what children are learning in Massachusetts or California? With our mobile society, children who moved from state to state often found themselves way behind or way ahead of what was being taught in their new school … Why shouldn’t every state set the bar high with rigorous, clear, concise and jargon-free standards by grade level and subject?” Continue reading