Amidst rising opposition to Common Core, Oklahoma dropped the national education standards in June, four years after adopting them. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education last week denied Oklahoma’s request to extend its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver, saying the state no longer met requirements for college- and career-ready education standards. Losing the waiver limits Oklahoma’s freedom in education spending and forces it to comply with requirements often considered unrealistic and unhelpful.
Many Common Core critics argue the federal government pressured states to adopt the Common Core standards through promises of NCLB waivers and Race to the Topgrants. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallen believes the federal government is now punishing her state for opting out.
“It is outrageous that President Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” Fallen said in a statement. “This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students.”
Without the NCLB waiver, Oklahoma loses much decision-making power over public education, including flexibility in how to spend about $29 million of its education funding. Oklahoma currently labels fewer than 500 schools as needing intervention, but under NCLB definitions, the state education department expects that number to jump to as many as 1,600. Some of the schools may have to replace staff, change curriculum, lengthen school days, or close entirely.
Teachers also worry they could lose their jobs because funds currently paying their salaries might be diverted to meet federal requirements, such as providing student transportation to their school of choice.
“The federal regulations being imposed on Oklahoma are counterproductive and overly rigid, but the time for hand-wringing is over,” said Janet Barresi, Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction.
States that don’t adopt Common Core have the choice to create their own college- and career-ready standards, and Oklahoma is taking action to draft ones “created by Oklahomans for Oklahomans,” according to the state department of education website. The new standards will “reflect Oklahoma values and principles” while setting high academic expectations, according to the website. It outlines the process for implementing the standards by August 2016 and encourages the public to “join every step of the way” by taking part in public committees.
In the meantime, Oklahoma must revert to the NCLB requirements. “I appreciate that transitioning back to NCLB is neither simple nor desirable,” said Deborah S. Delisle, assistant secretary for the U.S. Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, in her letter denying Oklahoma’s request for a waiver extension.
Indiana also dropped the Common Core standards after adopting them, but unlike Oklahoma, it adopted its own approved standards in April. The group Hoosiers Against Common Core claims the new standards are just a “Common Core rebrand,” but they allowed Indiana to meet the requirements for the NCLB waiver.
“The loss of the waiver will be a significant challenge” for Oklahoma, Barresi said, noting it is “disappointing and frustrating.” But she also said Oklahoma will “do what needs to be done” to meet the NCLB requirements.