Common Core Support Collapses in Oklahoma
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma could become the second state to abandon the controversial Common Core curriculum mandates for public schools.
The state Senate Education Committee in March unanimously approved its version of House Bill 3399, which sailed through the House on a 78-12 vote two weeks earlier. It requires the state to drop Common Core and replace it with state-controlled curriculum and tests.
On March 24, Indiana became the first state to withdraw from the Common Core standards. Like Oklahoma, Indiana originally adopted the standards in 2010, but controversy surrounding the centralizing process steadily built, leading to legislation Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed to withdraw. Common Core mandates what K-12 English and math curriculum and tests must include at each grade level. The Obama administration pushed states to sign onto Common Core months before it published. To date, 45 states have done so.
Pressure on the Governor
Complicating the picture for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), a past supporter of the Common Core, is the fact that her likely Democratic opponent, state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, has long opposed the curriculum. Dornan restated that position in late February, drawing praise from conservative education reformers in the process.
In an interview, Dorman said he supports the amended version of H.B. 3399. Republican lawmakers are split over whether to support the bill. Grassroots activists are fighting to keep the bill from being watered down in order to get Fallin to sign it. Fallin has been a leading supporter of Common Core.
But Fallin began to “decouple” from the curriculum “brand” last fall in response to grassroots pressure against her supportive stance, in an executive order insisting the state would adopt its own standards free of federal or national control.
More recently, Fallin has said she would sign legislation to underscore Oklahoma’s independent process in curriculum design.
After the Senate panel’s vote, President Pro Tem Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) said in a prepared statement, “Our challenge is to ensure Oklahoma students complete their education with the English and math skills they’ll need for college, Career-Tech, or to go directly into the workforce.
“House Bill 3399 ensures Oklahomans will be the ones to create the rigorous academic standards necessary so our children can compete in the 21st century without federal interference.”
Jenni White, a founder of Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE), the leading activist group opposing Common Core in the state, said she supported the bill moving onto the Senate floor.
However, While cautioned: “The grassroots cannot go back to sleep. We have to keep a close eye on the process over the year or more.”
Writing Oklahoma Standards
The legislation sets a deadline of August 1, 2015 for the state Board of Education to promulgate new state guidelines, which would go into effect by 2017.
“In the last two weeks, we have reset the playing field,” said Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate), a cosponsor of H.B. 3399 in the upper chamber. “School districts and parents are happy because this legislation will remove the requirement for parents to keep a political sword in their hands to protect their children.”
Common Core is under attack from left, right and center. This spring, serious challenges to Common Core are under way in approximately 24 states. Of those, the most intense opposition is in Wisconsin, New York, and Tennessee.
After months of fighting, foes of Common Core in Oklahoma appear on the verge of victory. Praising the momentum was Ginger Tinney, executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), a nonunion association.
“Oklahoma already has a proven track record of developing excellent academic standards,” she said. She pointed to academic studies finding little or no difference between Common Core and Oklahoma’s previous math and science standards.
“Common Core has been extremely divisive for our state,” Tinney said. “[The] vote in the Senate [committee] is a step in the right direction. However, I know not to be too trusting and to know this may only be to pacify the general public until we get past the election.”
The state Chamber of Commerce has expressed opposition to the legislation.
“There is no doubt that staying the course with Common Core would be better for Oklahoma’s students, teachers, schools and businesses,” said Vice President Gwendolyn Caldwell in a statement released by her office. “The business community will continue to work for an education system that ensures high school graduates are ready for college or a career. So we hope the business community has a seat at the table when the new standards are developed.”
“As we work to raise the bar in our schools, it is essential that higher academic standards are developed and implemented by and for Oklahomans,” Fallin said in a statement. “We have no interest in relinquishing control over education to the federal government or outside groups.
“I support passing legislation that increases classroom rigor and accountability while guaranteeing that Oklahoma public education is protected from federal interference,” she added. “While House Bill 3399 is still a work in progress, my hope is that it will accomplish these goals and ultimately be signed into law.”