Jun 06, 2014 - 4:30pm

Oklahoma Puts Politics Before Students

Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Mary Fallin by Scott Eells.JPG

Gov. Mary Fallin repeals Common Core in Oklahoma
Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

On June 5, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation that will scrap the Common Core standards in the state. The law, known as HB 3399, passed the Oklahoma House and Senate on May 23rd and has been awaiting a decision since. The verdict came after a storm of political pressure from a small, but very vocal anti-common core movement who supported the bill calling Common Core “a federal overreach.”

Amid the pressure, and just six months after defending the Core Standards at a National Governors Association meeting, Fallin signed the legislation despite substantial objections from educators, military families, institutions of higher learning, the civil rights community, and the business community.

The new law will require Oklahoma to revert back to the old standards, known as Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skill (PASS), that were used from 2003 to 2010. This essentially sets the state back four years and marks a conscious step away from high academic standards in favor of lower standards. This is a troubling thought because the old PASS standards do not exactly have the best track record for effectiveness in Oklahoma’s classrooms.

What do I mean?

  • According to the Nation’s Report Card, 30% of 4th graders in Oklahoma are proficient in reading, while only 36% are proficient in math.
  • Only 29% of 8th graders in the state are proficient in reading, while a mere 25% are proficient in math.
  • Of the Oklahoma students that pursue a postsecondary education, 60% of those in 2-year institutions and 30% of those in 4-year institutions need to take remediation classes because high school did not adequately prepare them for college-level work.
  • In six years, nearly 60% of the jobs in Oklahoma will require a postsecondary credential. However, only 30% of adults in the state currently have this credential. If things don’t change, there will be a 30% gap of available jobs and a workforce adequately prepared to fill them. This will have a dramatic effect on business growth in Oklahoma and on the state’s economy.

Incidentally, these are exactly some of the reasons why Oklahoma adopted the Common Core State Standards in the first place back in 2010. The state knew that, in order to be competitive not only with other states, but with other countries, something had to be done about the education they were providing students.

Unfortunately, political pressure got the best of a governor who said just three months ago that the “common core is not a federal program […] it is driven and implemented by those states that choose to participate. It is also not a federal curriculum; in fact, it’s not a curriculum at all. Local educators and school districts will still design the best lesson plans, will chose appropriate textbooks, and will drive classroom learning.”

So the question begs to be asked, what has changed since March?

The answer, I fear, is politics. And while we are on the subject, let’s take a look at what happens when we let politicians make the decisions for our kids:

  • The state legislature, a body that by its nature changes with the political winds, is empowered to edit and amend Oklahoma’s classroom standards and is ultimately responsible for them.
  • Any new standards produced by the state must be compared to existing standards in other states to ensure there are no similarities.  I repeat … cannot be similar to standards in any other states. What?
  • Abolishing Common Core will potentially cost Oklahoma taxpayers an estimated $125 million.
  • Oklahoma is now at risk of losing its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, which (ironically) will result in greater federal control over Oklahoma education.
  • Parents in Oklahoma will no longer be able to compare the quality of their schools with schools in other states.

As Oklahoma begins to rewrite and implement its uniquely-Sooner state standards, our thoughts will be with the generation of Oklahoma kids that will be lost in the chaos.

But hey, it’s just their future, right?

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About the Author

About the Author

Cheryl Oldham Headshot
Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Cheryl A. Oldham is vice president of education policy at the U.S.