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July 12, 2014

State education standards raise qualification questions

OKLAHOMA CITY — With a simple flourish of Gov. Mary Fallin’s pen last month, Common Core was no more. Taking shape in the void has been a pitched battle over who will control the educational standards that replace it.

Oklahoma’s repeal of the national education standards known as the Common Core, which the state had previously adopted, came in a bill in which the Legislature also gave itself authority to approve — or disapprove — new standards.

For that, four members of the state Board of Education are suing. They claim the Legislature is infringing upon their board’s rights to supervise instruction in public schools. Their attorney, Robert McCampbell, says the Legislature also is giving itself too much power, in violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine.

Education officials say writing curriculum standards is more difficult than it may seem. The job is critical — and at times political — deciding things such as whether and how evolution is taught, what to teach children about reproduction and when calculators should be introduced.

It remains to be seen who is best qualified for the task.

A survey of legislators’ online biographies shows that 19 list any classroom teaching experience. There are 149 members of the state House and Senate; nearly three-dozen do not post their biographies online.

Most lawmakers have college degrees — or at least attended college — and most chose careers other than education. That means the fate of the state’s new education standards will be in the hands of businessmen, a motivational speaker, a funeral director, attorneys, farmers, doctors and pastors.

Then again, the odds aren’t much better in finding an educator on the state Board of Education. Besides the state’s superintendent of public instruction, only one of six members, who are appointed by the governor, list teaching experience in their bios. Serving on that board is a retired military general, business owners and attorneys.

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