Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana Repeals Common Core, But Debate On Academic Standards Continues

Students in Fatonia Shank's fourth grade class at Indianapolis' Liberty Park Elementary solve a multi-step math problem.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Students in Fatonia Shank's fourth grade class at Indianapolis' Liberty Park Elementary solve a multi-step math problem.

The clock is ticking for Indiana education officials to approve new academic standards.

As we wrote earlier this week, Gov. Mike Pence  signed legislation that withdraws Indiana from the Common Core and requires state education officials write their own expectations for what students should know and learn at each grade level.

“I’ve pledged consistently that we’re going to write standards in Indiana that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high,” says Pence. “And we are deep into a completely transparent process and public process to do that.”

But that process is ongoing — schools won’t get new standards until later this spring.

“Children that are a finishing this year will finish under the existing Indiana standards, so teachers and students as well as, obviously, their families should not anticipate any changes moving towards the end of this calendar year,” says Lou Ann Baker, spokesman for Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation.

So for now, not much changes in Indiana classrooms. But as the first state to leave the Common Core, all eyes are now on Indiana.

Why Satisfying Everyone Will Be A Challenge

Count Erin Tuttle among the Common Core standards’ fiercest critics. She’s co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, the group that led the statehouse charge against the standards. Last year they declared victory when Indiana lawmakers agreed to suspend rollout of the Core standards until they could be studied.

But today Tuttle is disappointed. She says early drafts of Indiana’s next academic standards overlap too much with the Common Core.

“You have to look at what complaints got you there and address those,” Tuttle tells StateImpact. “At least make one step closer to the other people in trying to make it right so we can move forward. And these standards do not address the main concerns of the Common Core.”

The proposed Indiana standards look substantially similar to the standards they replace. (On this point, backers and critics of the Common Core agree.) But State Board member Brad Oliver says that’s to be expected: Indiana is building new standards based on several sets of previous expectations, including the Common Core.

“So if they don’t understand that part of the process or they did not watch that process and all they’re doing is comparing, then yes, that’s going to come up because it looks like, well you didn’t really change anything,” he says.

For his part, Pence says now the focus needs to be on picking the best possible expectations for students.

“Where we get those standards, where we derive them from to me is of less significance than are we actually serving the best interest of our kids,” says Pence.

Teachers Say It’s Time For Uncertainty To End

Teams of Indiana educators and subject matter experts cobbled together an early draft of the state’s next standards last month. That rough draft is being revised now. State education officials are moving quickly — they have to. Lawmakers have imposed a July deadline for new standards.

Fatonia Shank, a fourth grade teacher in Warren Township, helps a student with a writing exercise.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Fatonia Shank, a fourth grade teacher in Warren Township, helps a student with a writing exercise.

But for Indiana teachers, that work can’t be done fast enough — partially because they’re already doing Common Core.

Fatonia Shank, the fourth grade teacher we introduced earlier this week, says she likes how the Common Core is transforming her classroom.

What we’re trying to do is have the kids think,” says Shank. “Kids don’t — used to, at least when I was in school, OK, area and perimeter, why do I need to use it? I don’t have any reason why I need to use it. Now the kids are understanding that we might want to put a fence around something and you need to know how much is it going to cost me.”

Shank testified at the statehouse trying to keep the standards in Indiana. But now, she just wants state education officials to make a decision.

“Since 2010 we’ve been going to Common Core,” she says. “Now you’ve put it on pause two years. If you tell us where to go, we’ll get there. But we need to know where we’re going.”


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