Did Gov. Mike Pence telegraph the end of Common Core standards in Indiana during his state of the state speech?
That’s what a couple key Democrats thought tonight, and they weren’t alone.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and one of her fellow Indiana State Board of Education members agreed afterward that the state is probably ultimately headed for new, locally-written standards.
Pence has been cagey about his position on the increasingly controversial Common Core, saying he has not made up his mind about the standards that Indiana and 45 other states have agreed to follow. But in two paragraphs of his speech, he seemed to hint more strongly than in the past that national standards won’t last in the Hoosier state.
“When it comes to setting standards for schools, I can assure you, Indiana’s will be uncommonly high,” Pence said. “They will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and will be among the best in the nation.”
That caught the ear of Democratic House Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who exchanged a knowing glance with his senate counterpart, Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.
“My interpretation is he doesn’t like Common Core or want to do it,” he said. “That’s what Sen. Lanane thought, too.”
The Common Core aims to establish what students need to know by the time they graduate high school to be ready for college or careers and to compete internationally. Indiana adopted Common Core as its state standards and began implementing them a grade per year starting at kindergarten in 2010. Some districts have gone faster, however, already adopting them K to 12.
It wasn’t until 2013 when a backlash against Common Core emerged as a potent force in the statehouse. Conservative legislators raised concerns that the standards were too closely aligned with the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama, ceding too much local control. Others felt Indiana’s prior standards were stronger.
Some liberals agreed, or felt Common Core was too strongly aligned with a testing-based, accountability-driven system of education they objected to.
During the 2013 legislative session, a bill passed that “paused” implementation of Common Core. It required new public hearings and additional study of Common Core, setting July 2014 for a new vote of the Indiana State Board of Education as to whether to continue with Common Core or write new Indiana standards. A new bill emerged in the legislature last week that would extend the Common Core pause for a second year.
Last year Pence withdrew Indiana from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a consortium of states building a shared, Common Core-aligned exam to replace their state tests. Pence has long been an advocate for local control of education, even voting against the federal No Child Left Behind law while representing Indiana in the U.S. Congress.
Pence invited Ritz and her 10 fellow state board members to the speech and spent a large portion of his speech talking about his education agenda.
“Hoosiers have high expectations when it comes to Indiana schools,” Pence said. “That’s why Indiana decided to take a time-out on national education standards.”
After the speech, Ritz said she did not expect Common Core standards alone to emerge this summer as Indiana standards, the way they are now.
“There will be a change to what we currently have,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing now. We’re reviewing the standards.”
The suggestion that Indiana would drop the Common Core to instead create its own standards has recently been echoed by legislative leaders, including House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. House Republican leaders, including Bosma, have been supportive of Common Core, while most of the skepticism about the standards has been in the Senate. Others have suggested the state might borrow elements both from Common Core and from the state’s prior standards.
Some Common Core advocates have argued the state needs to stick with the national-aligned standards because college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT exams will soon be tied to Common Core.
A frustrated Tony Walker, a Democrat from Gary who serves on the state board, is one of them. He said the state cannot drift too far from the Common Core if it writes new standards.
“I think all of our anchor standards will have to be Common Core,” he said. “They have to be. We can’t go it alone. For kids to get into colleges across the country they’re going to have to be aligned to Common Core.”