By Michael King, Oklahoma Watch
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Despite continued opposition to new public-school standards, Oklahoma education officials say they are more confident than they were earlier this year that the standards will be fully implemented.
In a national survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, Oklahoma State Department of Education officials indicated in May that it was “somewhat likely” that the state’s decision to adopt Common Core State Standards would be reversed, limited or changed, according to a copy of the survey obtained by Oklahoma Watch through an Open Records Act request.
The department cited public opposition and opposition from state legislators as reasons for a possible change in the state’s 2010 decision to adopt the standards.
However, Tricia Pemberton, assistant director of communications at the education department, said the agency would answer that question differently now. “We would change that response to ‘not likely,’” she said.
“In the education community, teachers say, by and large, that they like the new, more rigorous standards,” Pemberton added. “They don’t necessarily want to see it changed.”
The department has been helping train educators to put Common Core standards in math and English language arts into practice in the classroom. Agency officials said on the survey that at the time between about half and three-fourths of teachers had received some professional training on using Common Core.
The new standards, which take effect in the 2014-2015 school year, are designed to be more challenging and to improve students’ critical thinking. All but five states have adopted the standards.
Oklahoma students lag behind their peers in most other states in academic performance.
On the math and reading assessments on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Oklahoma’s fourth- and eighth- graders scored lower than their peers in 40 other states.
Opposition to Common Core persists among some legislators, parents, educators and groups. Detractors say the standards represent a federal intrusion into state and local education policy and will not lead to better student achievement.
Some teachers are concerned that the benchmarks will increase the amount of classroom time devoted to testing.
The 2014 legislative session will see bills aiming to derail Common Core.
Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, has drafted a bill that would require the Oklahoma Board of Education to halt implementation of “any curriculum standards or related assessments aligned with the K-12 Common Core State Standards” by July 1, 2014. The bill also would require changing any agreement that makes using Common Core a condition for receiving federal funds.
In the House, Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, a vocal opponent, said he plans to introduce a bill that would eliminate the requirement that school districts use Common Core and allow districts to keep the current standards or use standards tested elsewhere.
Oklahoma also is developing its own social studies and science standards and, along with Common Core standards for math and English, will designate all of them Oklahoma Academic Standards.
Blackwell said his main concern is that the Common Core standards were adopted without testing or research to prove they will be effective.
“I’m not asking anyone to be against Common Core, just to put the standards to the test,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell said he believes if his bill goes to a vote in the House, it will pass.
He is less confident it would pass in the Senate.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi and Gov. Mary Fallin have endorsed the Common Core standards.
“We will be working to educate legislators about the importance of keeping the Oklahoma Academic Standards, and we don’t believe a bill will make it to the governor’s desk,” Pemberton said.
On Wednesday, Fallin issued an executive order intended to address some of the major objections to the standards.
The order says that the state is solely responsible for developing and implementing the standards, and that “the federal government shall not have any input in the formulation of the Oklahoma Academic Standards or the assessments used to determine student performance.”
The order also is designed to protect students’ privacy rights by prohibiting the collection or reporting of any information that would violate state or federal privacy laws. In addition, the order stipulates that the new standards affect only public K-12 schools; private schools and home schools “are not under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Education and are not affected by the implementation of any standards adopted by the State.”
“It’s in the best interest of Oklahoma’s children for our state to join the rest of this country in increasing classroom rigor,” Fallin said in a written statement, adding, “It is not, however, in our best interest to allow the federal government, or any organization outside of Oklahoma, to dictate how we teach our children or how we run our public schools.”
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org.
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