Published Online: July 14, 2014

Common-Core Repeal Faces Test at Okla. Supreme Court

A lawsuit that challenges the legislature's repeal of common core education standards for English and math is being scrutinized by Oklahoma's highest court just one month before public school students are scheduled to return to the classroom.

Parents, teachers and four members of the seven-member Oklahoma Board of Education accuse lawmakers of violating the board's constitutional authority over the "supervision of instruction in the public schools" when they repealed common core standards scheduled to go into effect in the upcoming school year. Some fear Oklahoma students will fall behind because of the change.

Conservative groups maintained that the standards represent federal intrusion into Oklahoma's public education system, and Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law last month.

But the Oklahoma Supreme Court may have the last word in whether the state will retain the common core standards, known formally as Oklahoma Academic Standards, or OAS, or return to standards known as Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS. Justices will hear oral arguments Tuesday.

The repeal of common core stunned educators who have been working to implement them since the legislature instructed the board to adopt the standards in 2010. More than 40 states had adopted the same educational standards to bring uniformity in English and math education among the states.

"It's kind of frustrating," said Katherine Bishop, an instructional coach at Putnam City West High School in Oklahoma City. School districts across the state invested time and resources to train teachers and create instructional plans for common core standards that were ready to be implemented, Bishop said.

Rhonda Harlow, an instructional coach at Enid Public Schools, had similar thoughts.

"It slowed down the momentum a little bit. It's kind of changing direction," she said.

The legislation repealing common core instructed the board to revert to educational standards in place before June 2010 and develop new state educational standards by 2016.

"That's sad that we did that to our kids in the name of politics," Bishop said. "We're now going to be basically stagnant for two years while other states are moving ahead. It's frustrating that we're keeping our kids back at that level."

"Legislators are not in the classroom on a daily basis," Harlow said. "To make drastic changes every few years makes it tough on the teachers, makes it tough on the kids. It's tough to stay motivated."

Educators said the political tug-of-war surrounding common core reflects a problem in the way state lawmakers approach educational standards for public school students.

"Our lawmakers are too willing to experiment with public education," said Amanda Ewing, associate executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, which represents 35,000 teachers across Oklahoma. "It takes a very long time to develop good, comprehensive standards."

She said younger teachers who have immersed themselves in common core may have a difficult time with the transition.

"Now they've got to learn a new system, and it's only going to be temporary," Ewing said. "Going back is going to be difficult for them."

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Bishop, who in 2009 helped develop common core standards to help students become college and career ready in association with the National Education Association, said the standards require students to think about what they have learned in math and English education more than the previous standards, which she said "were an inch deep and a mile wide."

"I'm so excited about the common core standards. They really gave that depth," Bishop said. "Now we've got to go back to those ones that we knew weren't good."

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