Common Core Spectacle

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The Common Core spectacle at the state Capitol is once again showing the wide schism in the Republican Party in Oklahoma.

On one side are the Republicans who oppose the uniformed K-12 educational standards that were initially adopted by 45 states. They are led at this point, it seems to me, by Gov. Mary Fallin who issued a recent statement in support of ditching Common Core standards for English, language arts and mathematics and developing new state standards.

After the Senate Education Committee voted to approve a bill that does just that, Fallin said:

As we work to increase classroom rigor and raise the academic bar in our schools, I have been clear that Oklahoma must take the lead in developing and implementing our own standards and assessments. To protect the principle of local control, and to resist federal overreach from Washington and the Obama administration, I signed last year an executive order outlining Oklahoma's independence in implementing higher standards and student assessments.

Note the anti-President Barack Obama and federal government rhetoric. In Oklahoma these days, that’s a clear political winner no matter what the issue or how much it’s stretched, especially in this case. Obama supports Common Core, but the federal government didn’t develop the standards. It was education leaders and the National Governors Association that did it.

On the other side of the issue on the Republican side are the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, an ultra-conservative publication. A recent editorial in The Oklahoman argued “ . . . opponents rarely criticize the actual standards. Most opposition is based on innuendo, conjecture, misinformation and disinformation.”

What gets lost in all the bickering over federal control are teachers and students.

Teachers here have prepared for months to implement the standards. If Oklahoma ends Common Core, all their work has gone for nothing. They will have to start over with new state standards. That will be demoralizing.

Students are left behind by sudden changes in curriculum and mixed messaging by authority figures over basic intellectual knowledge. They become political footballs tossed around by two GOP groups as the intraparty fighting continues over how best to criticize Obama rather than educate students.

Meanwhile, the GOP has allowed state funding to schools since 2008 to drop on a percentage basis more than any other state in the nation.

Indiana has become the first state to stop implementing Common Core after signing on to the new standards, and other states, especially conservative states, will probably follow their example. With Fallin’s support, Oklahoma could easily follow Indiana’s example.

The idea that states shouldn’t share standards because of a presumed overarching federal control ignores globalization and the impact of the Information Age on the world’s knowledge base. We live in an extremely connected world these days. Isolation is really no longer an option. Oklahoma should always look elsewhere for standards that clearly work.

The idea that Oklahoma schools, in particular, should be “protected from federal interference,” as Fallin has argued when it comes to Common Core, doesn’t mean much when it comes to basic intellectual development of students. Does any Republican, including Fallin, really believe that the federal government is against students becoming proficient in math and English, that it will somehow interfere with that process?

But then it’s an election year, and this type of reductionist sloganeering works here.