Just a few months ago, there wasn’t much public controversy surrounding the new academic standards Ohio is rolling out in its public schools.
Seemingly every big player in state education policy supported the Common Core standards. The teachers unions, school administrators, PTA and department of education all agreed that new standards were a good idea. So did Gov. John Kasich and much of the state Board of Education.
The standards are more rigorous than what’s been used in Ohio before, and emphasize critical thinking over rote learning. The talk at this point was going to be about how to help teachers integrate the new standards into their lesson plans.
Things have changed, and quickly. Now, Common Core supporters in Ohio are facing a statewide fight just to keep the new standards alive.
Fueled by conservative talk show discussions and encouraged by successful efforts to slow or halt use of the Common Core in states such as Indiana, some Ohioans are pushing the state to halt implementation of the Common Core in Ohio. State. Rep Andy Thompson, a Republican from southeastern Ohio, plans to introduce a bill to essentially pull state support for the new standards.
It’s unclear how far legislative attempts to stop the Common Core in Ohio will get.
The Republican chair of the House Education Committee said he expects the anti-Common Core to be heard by the committee, but says it’s “highly unlikely” the bill will get much support. And Ohio’s state superintendent, a former member of Gov. Kasich’s staff, has been a strong supporter of the Common Core.
“There’s a general consensus within the education committee that [the Common Core] is a really good thing because it basically sets standards higher than what we have had in Ohio,” said House Education Committee Chair Gerald Stebelton.
But the shift from Common Core as done-deal to Common Core under attack points to just how far the fight against the Common Core has come.
Education policy bubble
The Common Core is a set of standards for what students should know and be able to do in math and English. They are not a list of textbooks or required lesson plans. Supporters say the new standards will help teachers better prepare students for college and jobs.
Ohio’s state Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010 after public hearings. Forty-five states nationwide fully adopted the standards.
But some states are now having second thoughts. Indiana and Michigan have both paused their use of the Common Core. And several states, including Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma, have rejected new standardized tests being developed by a multi-state consortium, including Ohio. Florida is debating doing the same.
–Emmy Partin, Director of Ohio Coalition for Common Core Standards
The Ohio Department of Education recommends that schools align their curriculum to the Common Core by fall 2014. Many schools are already teaching to the new standards.
No state law requires schools to adopt the standards or the model curriculum that accompanies them, though schools that receive federal Race to the Top grants must work to align their lessons to the Common Core. But by the 2014-15 school year, annual standardized tests will be based entirely on the new standards.
The new standards are news to many outside of education circles. Last May, a national poll by the nonprofit group Achieve found that nearly two-thirds of voters had heard nothing about the Common Core.
Still, the need to play defense comes as a surprise to Common Core supporters, including Emmy Partin.
“I will admit to living in an education policy bubble in Columbus,” she said. “You get outside of that and there are a lot of smart folks who are concerned on a lot of fronts.”
Partin heads up a coalition founded by more than three dozen Ohio education groups to support the Common Core. The coalition is funded by a three-year, $600,000 grant from the Helmsley Foundation (yes, that Hemlsley).
Full implementation mode
State Rep. Andy Thompson sat on the House of Representatives Education Committee since his election in 2010. His wife teaches Spanish at Marietta High School.
Thompson said he hadn’t heard about the Common Core until about February of this year.
–State Rep. Andy Thompson
Thompson plans to introduce a bill to halt or pause implementation of the Common Core – and the new standardized tests that go along with the new standards. He said late last week about eight co-sponsors had signed onto his bill.
Thompson said the bill would force a “reexamination” of the Common Core in Ohio.
It’s unclear how the bill would affect schools that are already teaching the Common Core. Thompson said he did not think those schools “should be penalized for what they have accomplished.”
Thompson said his bill was a response to calls from constituents with a variety of concerns about the Common Core. Those concerns include questions about the rigor of the standards, the role of the federal government in developing them and how the new tests will affect students and schools.
The General Assembly voted in 2009 to require the state Board of Education to update the state’s existing academic standards. The state Board of Education held a month-long public comment period before adopting the new standards. And there were hearings in the House and Senate education committees on the Common Core before the state Board vote.
But Thompson said he is concerned that many legislators in office now don’t fully understand what the Common Core is and how it will affect students and schools.
“As legislators, if something goes dreadfully wrong in education, we’re the ones who are going to get the blame,” he said. “The question is, ‘Was due diligence done?’”
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that state policy requires all Ohio schools to teach the Common Core. Although the Ohio Department of Education recommends that schools align their curriculum with the Common Core, there is no state law that requires them to do so.