Draft Indiana Standards Get Chilly Response at Public Hearing

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 25, 2014 5 min read
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Draft standards aimed at replacing the Common Core State Standards in Indiana drew a barrage of skeptical and disappointed reactions from many who turned out here Tuesday for the second of three four-hour hearings on the controversial topic this week.

Some of those testifying said they were dismayed that the draft Indiana academic standards seemed very similar to, or no different from, the common core. Roughly 30 to 40 people testified over the course of the hearing.

Others said the new standards, which were created by a state panel of educators by merging the common core with portions of Indiana standards adopted in 2009, would only confuse students and teachers and create more instability in classrooms. And many simply reiterated their opposition to the common core itself.

Over the last several months, the state has been reconsidering its involvement in the common core and developing new standards with the help of state education professors and K-12 teachers. The resulting draft Indiana standards were released last week.

Danielle Shockey, a deputy superintendent in the Indiana education department, previously had said parents likely won’t notice a difference between common core and the new standards if they’re adopted, and that the skills teachers will focus on with students won’t differ greatly.

But Diane Scott, the curriculum director of the Lebanon Community School Corporation, said that despite being the “cheerleader” for teachers in her district, she was worried yet another change in standards would make them lose heart.

“These shifts are very difficult for the people in the field trying to do the work,” Scott told Indiana State Board of Education members and other education officials at the public hearing.

Some educators expressed concern that the draft standards were not clear in particular subject areas, and that the order in which the draft standards should be taught was also uncertain.

And Amy Nichols, who said she was a math specialist, argued that the approach of merging standards has produced a “confusing mess” for teachers.

Nichols criticized the draft standards for not separating certain mathematical topics and for simply replicating common core. Half of the common core standards for algebra, for example, had carried over to the 139 draft standards for algebra, she said.

“Why are we so rushed, especially when we already drafted standards in 2009 that were thoroughly vetted?” she asked.

A few individuals praised the way in which the standards were drafted, if not the specific standards themselves. Although she said the draft standards should be better organized for teachers, Kate Johnson of the Stand for Children advocacy group said, “The process definitely included input from educators.”

In perhaps the loudest moment of the hearing, several people jeered in opposition when Caitlin Hannon, of Teach Plus in Indianapolis, a group that advocates for effective and experienced teachers to be placed in urban schools, urged state officials to listen to teachers, and not prioritize testimony from parents over educators when it comes to standards.

Existing critics of the common core in Indiana showed that they were largely unsatisfied by the new standards. Heather Crossin, a leader of the Hoosiers Against Common Core group, said that they were simply a dressed-up and overweight version of the common core and even more unclear.

“It is clear that they represent the return to a mile-wide, inch-deep” method of learning, Crossin said at the meeting.

A few of those testifying urged the state board of education not to knuckle under to what they see as the federal government’s influence and money.

Randy Brown, a common-core opponent, said he resented the loss of the 2009 Indiana standards, which he argued had been the right course for the state all along.

“Common core came along from the federal government and kind of knocked that out of the water,” he said.

(The U.S. Department of Education gave incentives for states through Race to the Top grants to adopt “college- and career-ready” standards like the common core, and it’s paying for common-core aligned assessments, but it did not pay for the common core’s development.)

Another political critique, albeit a very different one, came from Bonnie Fisher, representing a group called Global Education Reforms Watch. She said the draft standards were really no different from the common core, and that both simply prepared students to be drones in a workforce dominated by capitalism.

If the state school board adopts the draft Indiana standards, Fisher said, “You should rename yourselves Board of Basic Worker Training. For this is not education.” CORRECTED: I have corrected the name of the group Ms. Fisher represented as well as the use of a word in her comment to the state board.

The draft content standards under discussion have not stopped lawmakers from taking further action to distance the state from the common core. After passing the state Senate, legislation that would void the state’s 2010 adoption of the common core was approved by the House education committee earlier this month. (It would not explicitly prohibit the Indiana State Board of Education, which has final say over content standards, from re-adopting the common core, although that option now appears both impractical and politically unpalatable.)

That 2014 legislation was authored by GOP Sen. Scott Schneider, who first introduced anti-common-core legislation last year. The push didn’t trigger the state to dump the common core, but it eventually led to a state law mandating a review of the common core and the official consideration of new standards. That review and evaluation of standards, in turn, led to the state’s consideration of these new standards.

The Indiana Education Roundtable, which is led by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, are to vote on the draft standards in March. Finally, the Indiana State Board of Education is to take a vote on the draft standards April 9.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.