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April 4, 2014

Money is at stake in debate over education standards

OKLAHOMA CITY — For four years, Norman teachers have prepared for the day that new education standards adopted by Oklahoma legislators would arrive in their classrooms.

Like other districts across the state, Norman’s schools have spent thousands to prepare teachers. They’ve reviewed curriculum, adjusting when needed, to ensure students will be ready when the new Common Core standards in English and math, aka Oklahoma Academic Standards, take effect this coming school year.

Shirley Simmons, Norman’s assistant superintendent of educational services, said she’s found that the standards are appropriate to students’ grades and abilities. The district still sets its own curriculum, and teachers mostly use the same types of math problems, though students write more because of the new standards.

Not everyone is convinced. About four years after Oklahoma legislators approved the standards, many have buyer’s remorse, giving rise to a bill that would change how the state adopts education standards.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, and State Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, are sponsoring a bill now working its way through the Legislature to essentially stall implementation of the Oklahoma Academic Standards.

While 45 states have adopted the Common Core standards, 11 are weighing bills to slow or revoke them, said Daniel Thatcher, a senior policies specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bi-partisan group in Denver. Of more than 300 bills filed in legislatures across the country, the majority move implementation forward.

In Oklahoma, schools have spent untold amounts to implement the standards. Reversing them could undo that work, education officials say, and potentially risk federal funds and leave districts to rely on old textbooks.

In Edmond, schools have fully implemented the standards, said Superintendent David Goin, who noted the biggest change for students is a more intensive effort on developing cognitive and analytical skills.

Goin said he’s heard from teachers on both sides, but he’s convinced that Common Core is a good program that leaves control in local hands.

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