Indiana Becomes First State to Abandon “Common Core” Educational Standards

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New state law requires Indiana to establish its own education standards and benchmarks.

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Governor Mike Pence (R) recently signed legislation making Indiana the first state to back away from common standards of student performance adopted by almost every state in the nation.

These standards – called Common Coreprescribe a series of benchmarks of educational attainment that elementary and secondary students should demonstrate at each grade level, as well as upon graduating. For example, under Common Core, fifth grade students are expected, among other things, to be able to “write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.”

Indiana adopted Common Core in 2010 after Indiana’s Education Roundtable, co-chaired by then-Governor Mitch Daniels (R), issued a resolution recommending that the Indiana State Board of Education sign on to Common Core. Complying with state statutes governing academic standards, the State Board adopted Common Core in its entirety, re-naming it Indiana’s Common Core Standards.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices has led states in developing Common Core. Common Core standardized education benchmarks are currently fully adopted in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories. Before Indiana recently dropped Common Core, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, and Nebraska were the only states that had not adopted Common Core at all, and Minnesota was the only state that had not adopted Common Core in its entirety. (Puerto Rico also has not adopted Common Core.)

The new Indiana law calls for the state to establish its own education standards before July 1, 2014. These standards must satisfy six guidelines established by the law, including matching the highest standards in the United States and meeting national and international benchmarks for college and career preparation.

Two of the six guidelines have particular implications for Indiana education. The first requires new standards to receive essentially the blessing of the U.S. Department of Education by maintaining the state’s flexibility waiver under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Congress re-authorized ESEA in 2001, and ESEA has not been re-authorized since. Some ESEA mandates have therefore become outdated and now clash with modern education innovations. Flexibility waivers allow state governments to comply with ESEA mandates while still embracing modern education innovations.

Indiana currently operates under an ESEA waiver, which it obtained in 2012 while it had Common Core in place. Eliminating Common Core might lead the U.S. Secretary of Education to terminate Indiana’s existing waiver if he determines that Indiana’s actions have failed to justify its original waiver or if the waiver is unnecessary for its original purposes. Indiana’s new law calls for the new education standards to “[c]omply with federal standards to receive a flexibility waiver.”

A second notable guideline in the new Indiana law requires that the state’s new standards “[m]aintain Indiana sovereignty.” While the federal government did not create Common Core, critics of Common Core, both in Indiana and nationwide, have argued that these common standards represent a federal power grab. The Indiana law requires that Indiana may not create agreements requiring “the state to cede any measure of autonomy or control of education standards and assessments” – except for what is needed to receive flexibility waivers.

The new Indiana law also requires administration of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) program, which comprises a series of tests given to students to measure school performance, provide feedback about Indiana’s educational policies’ effectiveness based on student results, and provide a basis for comparing student achievement in Indiana to achievement nationally. The Indiana State Board of Education must submit future testing plans to the Indiana State Budget Committee before such testing plans are implemented.

Pence stated that once Indiana develops its new standards, other states will be able to use Indiana’s process as a model to analyze how the state “drew on educators,…drew on citizens and parents, and developed standards that meet the needs of our people.” Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse (R), who authored the bill, supported the Governor, stating that “many lawmakers, including myself, are confident that Indiana can do better than Common Core by utilizing school standards written by Hoosier education leaders.”

Indiana’s House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath disagreed with Indiana’s recent move, emphasizing support for Common Core because he feels it leads to consistency in education among states. Jeb Bush, the former Republican Governor of Florida, has also stated in the past that Common Core promotes students’ self-confidence and helps the United States compete globally.

Some critics of the new Indiana law have charged that it just calls for re-implementing Common Core but without the “Common Core” name.

In addition to Indiana, several other states have moved away from Common Core recently by pausing its implementation or decreasing participation in national tests.