For the sake of Indiana students, it's important to distinguish the state's participation in the Common Core standards from the political tug-of-war between the Glenda Ritz-controlled Department of Education and the Mike Pence-controlled Center for Education and Career Innovation.
Note that it's for the sake of students – not for Indiana's economic health or devotion to Hoosier values, which would inevitably shift the focus from students to adults. In spite of the ideological spin placed on Common Core – from both ends of the political spectrum – the standards simply represent state-level expectations of what students from kindergarten through high school should know in English and math. Indiana should remain on course with Common Core.
Too little regard has been given to classroom teachers in state education policy. But it speaks volumes that their criticism of the standards-and-testing movement has focused on the latter part of the equation. That's because they know firsthand those eureka moments when a first-grader begins to read or a middle-school student finally grasps an algebraic equation. Many Common Core standards are those they've individually used for years to measure success in reaching students.
The willingness of Indiana teachers to accept the standards and tailor their instruction to it is a quiet but powerful endorsement. But their complaints about the subversive effects of standardized testing should be given consideration as well.
As for the standards, every resident should want Indiana students to achieve a certain competency in those academic areas – to know that students moving to another district or state won't be missing crucial pieces of knowledge. It's important to know that Indiana graduates will be academically prepared to enter any institution of higher learning or any field of skilled trade.
Moreover, anyone who insists education policy must be driven by accountability must be willing to accept common standards for all students. The standards and testing requirements that apply to public school students must apply wherever tax dollars support learning, including charters and voucher schools.
Some additional caveats:
•National standards alone will not improve schools or help a single student. Qualifying standards tell Olympic hopefuls what measure they must meet to compete on the world's stage, but the numbers do nothing to improve an athlete's performance. That takes expert coaching, state-of-the-art equipment, personal motivation and hard work. Likewise, academic improvement requires expert teachers, safe and well-equipped schools and students with early-learning experiences to motivate and inspire lifelong learning.
•Corporate influence must not be allowed to corrupt Common Core. Development of the national standards and the accompanying tests quickly drew the attention of an education industry eager to tap into billions of public dollars. In New York, for example, the state's attorney general recently signed a settlement with the Pearson Foundation to collect $7.7 million in fines over the charitable division's actions in advancing Pearson's profit-making division. The state's investigation focused on the company's development of Common Core-aligned products.
Indiana's debate has revealed a healthy skepticism that should apply to all education policies. But the discussion has yet to reveal anything to counter the overall value of common standards of learning, which exist in all nations with top-performing schools.
Finland, one of those nations, has standards for primary-grade math stating "They will derive satisfaction and pleasure from understanding and solving problems." In short, the goal is to engender a love of learning.
Indiana policymakers should set aside the squabble over what's in the Common Core standards and use the flexibility allowed each state to address what's left out – guidelines that will help young Hoosiers become lifetime learners.