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School standards receiving rushed treatment

It’s Holy Week, during which Christians both mourn and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, culminating in Easter on Sunday.

Gov. Mike Pence is also out of town all week, on a trade mission to Germany through today – Good Friday. Whoever is running state education bureaucracies in his absence has decided this is the perfect time to give the public four business days and a holiday weekend to review the new, 222-page K-12 standards Hoosiers have spent more than two years trying to get instead of national mandates called Common Core.

Their hasty release on Tax Day, April 15, is a fitting metaphor for this entire process, despite Pence’s promises of a “comprehensive, transparent and rigorous process of academic review.”

Here’s a quick recap. In 2010, Indiana jettisoned an update to state education standards to instead adopt Common Core, a set of national mandates for K-12 in math and English. Hoosier parents discovered that nationally recognized experts uniformly considered Indiana’s previous standards superior. Naturally, Indiana parents want high-quality curriculum, so they mobilized in protest.

In spring 2013, at these parents’ behest, Pence signed a law requiring the state board of education to review Common Core. In 2014, lawmakers went further and passed another law requiring the board to jettison Common Core. In between, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Pence bickered over who would control what education agencies. This temporarily shut down the board, so it did not get around to writing new standards until 2014.

The draft of new standards that came out in February essentially discredited its authors. It was a low-quality jumble of disconnected ideas, 93 percent of which the education department admitted were direct cut-and-pastes from Common Core, and roundly criticized. Independent analysts condemned the draft as obviously worse than even Common Core. Despite this, Pence’s education point-woman, Claire Fiddian-Greene, insisted the same people perform another rewrite. This time, the process was nowhere near “transparent” – subsequent drafts were kept secret. Even state board of education member Andrea Neal could not get a final copy until the release. Neither could independent people charged with reviewing the draft standards, such as Terrence Moore of Angola and Sandra Stotsky of Massachusetts, whose names nonetheless appeared on the final draft they weren’t allowed to see.

Ritz told the state board the final draft would be out Wednesday, but it was released Tuesday. Four business days later, on Monday, this document will get an up-or-down vote by another board that must approve state standards before they can go to the education board. Even members of this bureaucratic pileup, called the Education Roundtable, got no early look.

Although he’s a voting member of the Roundtable, state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said in a public meeting April 12 he would be “shocked” if the draft were not published April 14. When it wasn’t, he had to resort to media reports to guess that it would be released April 16.

In short, the people running this show have made Pence’s promise that Indiana’s standards rewrite would be “completely transparent” a falsehood.

To have no idea of a significant, lengthy document a few days before you must vote it up or down is the opposite of transparent. And Pence’s promise of “uncommonly high” standards may also fail to materialize, although there’s hardly time to tell beforehand, because the Roundtable and state board could vote this draft through by April 28.

Indiana does have an ace in its pocket.

The Roundtable and state board of education could decide to reinstate Indiana’s better-than-Common-Core previous standards rather than a set we must pass to find out what’s in them. Indiana teachers for grades 3-12 are still teaching Indiana’s nationally acclaimed former standards. But time is extremely short.

Joy Pullmann is an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute. She lives in Fort Wayne. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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