Cover Story

Uncommon uprising

"Uncommon uprising" Continued...

Issue: "Bright or rotten idea?," Oct. 5, 2013

Heather Crossin didn’t hear about the new standards until her daughter brought home the math problem in 2011. She contacted state Sen. Scott Schneider, a Republican on the Senate education committee, but he also knew little about them. Today Schneider says, “Out of 150 legislators … in the statehouse in Indiana, there were very few that actually knew what Common Core was.” Exercising its legal authority, the education board had ushered in the new standards alone and begun implementation.

“Nobody was talking about it,” says Crossin. Appalled, she and another parent, Erin Tuttle, went to work, spreading information to friends and Tea Party leaders, and appearing on an Indianapolis radio show. Meanwhile, Schneider introduced a bill to the 2012 legislative session that would have banned Common Core. With Daniels and Bennett opposing it, the measure died.

But it was an election year. As Bennett campaigned, he found himself awkwardly defending his advocacy of Common Core at Indiana Tea Party meetings, while his challenger, Democrat Glenda Ritz, told parents she wanted to pause Core adoption.

When voters went to the polls that November, they sent Bennett packing in a widely watched upset. Schneider and others say Bennett’s position on Common Core was a key factor in his loss.

This year, when Schneider introduced a bill to pause adoption of Common Core, the Indiana General Assembly gave its approval. The state’s new governor, Republican Mike Pence, signed the bill in May.

The bill’s passage came even after the pro-Core (and Gates-funded) education group Stand for Children reportedly paid around $90,000 on Indiana TV and radio ads to oppose the bill.

Crossin and Tuttle, on the other hand, didn’t solicit funds and paid for their own gas when they traveled. “We’re just citizen activists,” Crossin says. “We care about our children’s education and their futures. … We feel like parents have been left out of the decision-making process entirely.”

Indiana’s new law puts Core implementation on hold while a legislative study committee compares Core standards with the state’s existing ones. (Incidentally, Indiana was one of just two states with English standards Fordham found to be superior to Common Core.) The law also requires an analysis of the cost to implement the new standards. The 11-member education board (with a few fresh Pence appointments) must make a final decision on the standards by next July.

The law marks a pause, not a ban, and some think Indiana will ultimately keep the Core standards. Dena Cushenberry, the superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township on the east side of Indianapolis, believes it’s too late to turn around now, after districts like hers have already purchased new curriculum. “The work has already started, and so a pause is very concerning to us,” she says. “We’ve already started providing professional development to our teachers to teach differently.”

The grassroots uproar in Indiana is paralleled elsewhere. Activists are pushing back against Common Core in Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, Kansas, Utah, Colorado, and other states. Groups like the American Principles Project (APP) have provided them with some national coordination and assistance, keeping in touch through a private email list. (Other policy organizations opposing Common Core include The Heritage Foundation and The Heartland Institute.)

For now, state involvement in two groups developing K-12 Core-aligned assessment tests is a good gauge of how deep Common Core skepticism is flowing. In July, Pence announced Indiana would withdraw from an assessment consortium known as PARCC. Georgia and Pennsylvania have also withdrawn, and Florida has signaled it may do so. (Alabama and Utah have withdrawn from the second consortium, known as Smarter Balanced.) As of mid-September, just 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, remained committed to PARCC. If the number drops below 15, the consortium will lose federal funding, dealing a major blow to the effort to develop uniform assessment tests. 

Robbins of the APP says proponents of Common Core “did not anticipate there would ever be this pushback.”

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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