Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has started to prance about the country, touting himself as the governor who ousted Common Core, a set of national curriculum and testing mandates in math and English. But it’s Oklahoma that may actually merit that distinction, if Gov. Mary Fallin signs a bill to do so by June 2.
Indiana was the first state to formally reject Common Core, but the replacement looks so similar it’s clear my home state only replaced the name, not the substance. Oklahoma’s House Bill 3399, by contrast, has several provisions Indiana’s legislation did not, which means Oklahoma families and voters will have far more say over what their kids will learn. This stands in contrast to Common Core, which Oklahoma adopted through decisions by government agencies just 12 business days after it was made public.
The bill repeals Common Core from state law and requires schools to use Oklahoma’s previous academic benchmarks for two years while the state creates new standards. This should not dilute the instruction Oklahoma children receive, because even the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute rated the state’s previous benchmarks as essentially equal in academic quality to Common Core. The bill also requires a comparison of the new standards against Common Core to ensure the two are not aligned, and it requires the legislature to approve the new standards.
As Indiana learned, these protections are necessary to prevent embedded education bureaucrats from turning victory into defeat for the throngs of parents who, in both Indiana and Oklahoma, have been demanding better standards since Common Core came out in 2010.
HB 3399 also says the new standards must require children to master standard algorithms in math, a response to parent complaints about Common Core, which in many school districts has meant a return to the disastrous “fuzzy math” of the 1990s.
Aside from the obvious demerits of fuzzy math—separating children from parents by teaching an entirely different system, ignoring kids’ natural mental development from concrete to abstract, stunting math skills, etc.—why does it matter whether Oklahoma uses Common Core or its own curriculum mandates? After all, research from the Brookings Institution shows the curriculum and testing mandates we call standards do not increase what children learn, no matter how good they are.
Here are a few reasons Oklahoma parents have not been wasting their time. First, returning more control to people closer to kids cannot fail to benefit children and society. It is a well-proven economic and social principle that those closest to a situation are best equipped to handle it with the least amount of waste and incompetence. The fact that parents are the number one influence on a child’s education outcomes is an argument for empowering, rather than ignoring, parents. That means moving from national to state power, instead of the other way around, is a step in the right direction, one that should be followed by additional decentralization of power to parents and communities.
Second, Common Core harms instruction, as the spread of the fuzzy math it has engendered demonstrates. As it has rolled out into states, this and other major problems have become apparent, and the new law would allow Oklahoma to learn from these mistakes and make better choices.
Finally, as head of the National Governors’ Association, Gov. Fallin is a national leader. Leaders do not do the same thing as everyone else. Leaders do not hide in the herd for fear they may fail. Leadership means moving ahead of and outside the pack. Signing this bill is a perfect opportunity for Fallin to step up and lead, demonstrating Oklahoma’s independence and forward thinking in refusing to pass responsibility for its education to outside entities.
Joy Pullmann is an education research fellow for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of School Reform News.