Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma could become the second of the United States formally to abandon the controversial Common Core curriculum for public schools.
Monday, the state Senate Education Committee unanimously approved its own version of House Bill 3399, which sailed through the House on a 78-12 vote two weeks ago.
Joy Pullmann, Research Fellow at the Heartland Institute in Chicago, told CapitolBeatOK the intensity of opposition to Common Core is a hint the outcome here will follow Indiana’s lead.
The Hoosier State on Monday (March 24) 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 thrust of the process steadily built, leading to legislation that Gov. Mike Pence signed.
Complicating the picture for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, 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. He restated that position in late February, drawing praise from conservative education reformers in the process.
As Pullman observed, “The Republican base is split. And, it sounds as if there will be votes on the floor of both houses that could override a gubernatorial veto.”
A common observation at the Capitol now is that Gov. Fallin began to “decouple” from the curriculum “brand” last fall, in an executive order insisting the state would adopt its own standards free of federal or national control.
In recent days, Fallin has said she would sign legislation to underscore Oklahoma’s independent process in curriculum design.
After the Senate panel’s vote Monday morning, President Pro Temp 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.
“This puts control squarely in the hands of Oklahoma and our local districts, helping make sure our students will receive the education necessary to succeed.”
Jenni White, chairman of Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE), the leading activist group assailing the Common Core, said she supports the bill moving onto the Senate floor.
Monday afternoon, however, While cautioned during an interview with Oklahoma Watchdog, “The grass roots cannot go back to sleep. We have to keep a close eye on the process over the year or more.”
The legislation sets a deadline of August 1, 2015 for the state Board of Education to promulgate new state guidelines. The new guideposts would be in effect by 2017.
Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, co-sponsor of H.B. 3399 in the upper chamber, told CapitolBeatOK, “In the last two weeks, we have reset the playing field.”
He said, “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.”
Pullman, who is also editor of School Reform News, pointed out that the Common Core is under attack from left, right and center. She described New York state as “hot and heavy” and breaking against the national curriculum standards.
In all, Pullman said, there are 24 states where serious challenges to Common Core are under way. Of those, the most intense opposition is coming in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Illinois.
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 non-union association. She said, “Oklahoma already has a proven track record of developing excellent academic standards.” She pointed to academic studies concluding there was little or no difference between the Common Core and Oklahoma’s previous math and science standards.
Tinney told CapitolBeatOK, “Common Core has been extremely divisive for our state. Monday’s vote in the Senate 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.
“Time will tell, but hopefully the general public will be watching carefully. Professional Oklahoma Educators will be watching carefully and will keep educators updated on what is happening on this important issue.”
Only the state Chamber of Commerce has expressed opposition to the legislation.
Vice President Gwendolyn Caldwell said, in a statement released by her office, “There is no doubt that staying the course with Common Core would be better for Oklahoma’s students, teachers, schools and businesses. 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 to ensure Oklahoma has an educated workforce leading the state to continued economic growth.”
As for Gov. Fallin, in a statement this afternoon she said, “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. 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. 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.”