Hundreds of parents, grandparents, and children packed a January Indiana Senate hearing on a bill to remove the state from the Common Core, a national list detailing what K-12 students should know in every grade.
State senators’ sentiments seemed mixed, but the audience leaned toward supporting Senate Bill 193. Approximately 300 people gathered two hours before the hearing for a rally—during a work and school day—to “stop the Common Core.” They packed the hearing room to the rafters. Small children bearing American flags sat on the floor, in front of their standing parents who were lining the walls.
Imposed Without Warning
Though Indiana adopted the standards two years ago, in August 2010 SB193 cosponsor Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis) said he and most other legislators hadn’t even heard of it until parents brought it to their attention. Two of those mothers testified, noting they had not heard of the Core until their elementary-school children started bringing home confusing, “fuzzy math” homework.
“Indiana’s standards adoption process before the Common Core was transparent and comprehensive,” Schneider said. “It brought in parents, teachers, community, and business leaders. When we cede control of our standards, that voice is lost, and I think it’s fundamental to democracy.”
Schneider’s main concerns are cost, quality, loss of local control, and a loss of diversity among private, charter, and home schools “when all roads lead to one test.”
Forty-five states adopted the Core, most within 32 business days of its appearance. Indiana’s Board of Education adopted the Core two months after it was published. States are currently implementing the Core, which will mean new national tests in 2015, entirely new instructional materials, a pile of tech upgrades, teacher training, and an overhaul of teacher preparation.
No state has yet fully withdrawn, but several—including South Carolina, Georgia, and Utah—are considering it.
Common Core supporters also came out in force. Senators closely questioned several, including Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
He gave three main reasons Indiana should “stay the course”: it has already spent time and money on the Core; Indiana students perform relatively poorly despite high state standards; and Common Core states will enjoy a “wave of innovation” caused by a national education market.
Petrilli agreed the Obama administration should not have “politicized” the standards, but he argued states initiated them and federal involvement was limited.
“Don’t let your frustration with President Obama lead you to lash out at Indiana’s kids,” he said.
Petrilli also countered SB193 supporters’ argument that the Core pushes algebra back into ninth grade and forces English teachers to incorporate loads of “informational text.” The standards provide flexibility for accelerating students, he said, and the informational texts will largely be expected of history, math, and science teachers.
Literacy researcher Sandra Stotsky, who served on a Common Core approval committee but refused to sign off on it, discussed its English standards in detail at the hearing.
“The English-language arts standards are chiefly empty skill sets,” she said. “They cannot even lead to a meaningful high school diploma until one begins to specify the content.”
Senators asked so many questions of people giving testimony that the two hours allotted for each side could not accommodate everyone on the schedule. Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse (R-Fort Wayne) gave an extra half hour to Common Core opponents after the official hearing ended.
Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) asked many questions, and particularly wondered why a bevy of education and subject experts disagreed on the standards’ quality.
“If the standards are published, in black and white, why can’t we get the same answer on something like eighth grade algebra, something that simple?” she asked.
Senators were also interested in whether any Indianans had participated in creating the Core, how to guard against federal encroachment, how test creators can design grade-level tests if the standards are flexible, and the impact on teachers of tying their evaluations to student test scores that are projected to drop radically once the Core tests arrive in 2014.
Near the end of the testimony, Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) walked to the back of the hearing room to a pair of women, and whispered to them, “What do you think?” They ducked into the hall to talk.
Former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott testified he refused to sign his state onto the Common Core because its promoters insisted he do so before seeing the standards.
“I quickly learned this was not about collaboration among the states—it was about control,” he said.
Several education professionals spoke in support of the bill. The Core requires more focus on informational text than Indiana’s standards, such as having students use manuals to operate machines, said Schauna Findlay, chief academic officer for Goodwill Education Initiatives. This has benefitted her “challenging” students, she said.
he legislature should not rescind a state board of education decision because that would usurp the board’s authority and traditional process, said Derek Redelman of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Schneider noted this concern and said he would amend the bill to address it.
The hearing lasted four and a half hours. Several dozen people stayed to the end.
Indiana’s Senate Education Committee is scheduled to vote on SB193 on February 13.
Image of parents at the Indiana capitol rally by Joy Pullmann.