On June 5, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) signed legislation to repeal and replace the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Oklahoma with the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards that the state used from 2003 to 2010. With Fallin’s decision, Oklahoma joins South Carolina and Indiana as the only states to withdraw from the CCSS, which have been adopted and continue to be implemented in more than forty states.
Unlike South Carolina, which gives the state until the 2015–16 school year to adopt new content standards and leaves the CCSS in place until then, Oklahoma’s legislation is immediate and forces the state to go back to the standards it used four years ago.
“This decision will throw many schools into chaos as they prepare for a new academic year,” Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association told the Oklahoman. “It also represents a significant waste of the time and resources schools have spent on the transition over the last four years. This decision is not good for Oklahoma’s schools, and it’s not good for Oklahoma’s kids.”
In addition to lost time and resources, the state will also have to “cobble a new test together,” according to Oklahoma Department of Education Spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton.
Sandy Boyd, chief operating officer of Achieve, told Politico that Fallin’s action was a “huge step backward.” Boyd also pointed out that only 25 percent of Oklahoma’s eighth graders scored proficient on the 2013 Nation’s Report Card in math and only 29 percent reached proficiency in reading. Those percentages rank the state forty-fifth in math and in a tie for forty-first in reading. “It’s disappointing,” Boyd said. “The [Common Core] standards were good in January, the standards are still good in June.”
Boyd’s comment refers to a speech that Fallin, who also chairs the National Governors Association (NGA),1 gave on January 15 in strong support of the Common Core. When delivering the NGA’s annual State of the States address, Fallin said the Common Core “is not a federal program” and “is also not a federal curriculum,” adding that “educators and school districts will still design lesson plans, choose appropriate text books and drive classroom learning.”
Upon signing the Oklahoma legislation on June 5, Fallin blamed her change of heart on “federal overreach” that “tainted” the CCSS. “We cannot ignore the widespread concern of citizens, parents, educators, and legislators who have expressed fear that adopting Common Core gives up local control of Oklahoma’s public schools,” Fallin said. “The words ‘Common Core’ in Oklahoma are now so divisive that they have become a distraction that interferes with our mission of providing the best education possible for our children. If we are going to improve our standards in the classroom, now is the time to get to work.”
Others believe Fallin, who is up for re-election in November, was reacting to political pressure.
“Governor Fallin once supported the ambitious Common Core State Standards because she knew they were necessary to put Oklahoma’s children on a path to a better future,” said Carmel Martin, executive vice president of policy at the Center for American Progress. “Her decision represents yet another example of tea party tactics aimed at scoring political points on the backs of our nation’s kids prevailing over a practical bipartisan coalition made up of business organizations, the civil rights community, military leaders, teachers, and parents.”
The reaction from the business community was also negative.
“Governor Fallin’s decision to sign HB 3399 into law is a massive disappointment to the educators, administrators and business leaders who have fought for years to ensure that Oklahoma’s students reap the benefits of internationally-benchmarked but locally-controlled academic standards,” said Tulsa Regional Chamber President and CEO Mike Neal. “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.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Education Policy Cheryl Oldham said Fallin’s decision “essentially sets the state back four years and marks a conscious step away from high academic standards in favor of lower standards.”
The legislation Fallin signed directs the Oklahoma Board of Education to create new, more rigorous standards by August 2016. Upon signing the legislation, Fallin said that Oklahoma was “capable of developing [its] own academic standards that will be better than Common Core.”
Yet to be seen is whether Oklahoma’s experience in writing its own standards will mirror that of Indiana’s, which became the first state to pull out of the Common Core when Governor Mike Pence (R) signed a law on March 24 requiring the state to adopt its own academic standards. On April 28, the Indiana State Board of Education adopted new standards in English language arts and math that are a “hybrid of the common core and prior Indiana academic standards,” according to Education Week reporter Andrew Ujifusa, who has been following the Common Core very closely through his “State EdWatch” blog. Ujifusa adds that analysts have remarked that Indiana’s new standards are “in large part very similar, if not identical, to the common core in many areas.”
In a statement on states withdrawing from the Common Core, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, said he “[prefers] to think of the glass as thirty-five to forty states full rather than three to four empty.
“The knowledge and skills that students need to be ready for college and a career do not differ from state to state,” Wise said. “That’s why I think states withdrawing from the Common Core to develop their own standards will eventually come back to the standards or something very close to them, as was Indiana’s experience. Even states that say they are rejecting the Common Core are doing it as ‘repeal-lite.’”
1 The NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers spearheaded the state-led effort to develop the CCSS.