Tahlequah Daily Press


June 16, 2014

Need for standards remains

TAHLEQUAH — For reasons having little to do with reality, Common Core Academic Standards have become politically toxic. Virtually all problems in America’s education system are being blamed on the standards, including problems that long preceded creation of the standards. Thus, it’s not surprising that Gov. Mary Fallin chose to sign legislation repealing Common Core in Oklahoma.

But what comes next? Fallin said the goal is to create new state-developed standards “better than Common Core.” That’s a goal we endorse as well. But the provisions of the repeal legislation, House Bill 3399, make such an outcome unlikely.

Under the new law, the State Board of Education will be required to adopt new academic standards in language and math by Aug. 1, 2016. The process must involve consultation with a wide range of experts and interested parties. However, as we’ve noted before, the legislation also includes provisions allowing state lawmakers to then unilaterally rewrite the academic standards themselves, thoroughly politicizing the process.

Those provisions are most likely unconstitutional. A court challenge is expected.

The National Association of State Boards of Education recently told Fallin about the bill’s constitutional problems. The state constitution grants the State Board of Education authority over the “supervision of instruction in the public schools.

 The board is clearly part of the executive branch since its members are either gubernatorial appointees or the state superintendent. Past court rulings have declared, “(O)ne constitutional body may not exercise a function expressly set apart to another constitutional body.” And the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits “legislative intrusion upon the functions assigned by the constitution to the executive.”

Thus, state lawmakers’ attempt to co-opt the board’s authority regarding academic-standards development appears a clear constitutional violation.

But even if the courts uphold the bill’s constitutionality, there is little reason to believe lawmakers will actually support rigorous, state-developed standards. This year, both chambers of the Legislature voted to reject state-developed science standards (although that repeal effort ultimately fell short).

The new Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science are the product of more than a year of work by a committee of more than 60 members. More than 500 people ultimately helped write, review, comment or offer input. The new science standards were considered a solid improvement over the prior standards, which received an F grade in a 2012 Fordham Institute study.

Yet lawmakers still came close to rejecting those standards, despite the fact they were developed under the state-directed process legislators claim to champion.

The Oklahoma Science Teachers Association notes many lawmakers’ objections focused on the presentation of climate science in early grade levels. Apparently, those politicians assumed any mention of “climate” was a de facto endorsement of the theory of man-made climate change.

In reality, education officials felt it was important for students living in a state known for tornados and other natural disasters to have some working knowledge of weather and climate. The Oklahoma Science Teachers Association notes Oklahoma’s prior science standards also included references to weather and climate.

Thanks to HB 3399, Oklahomans may not have to worry about the alleged nefarious influence of national groups on Oklahoma schools. Instead, they must now worry that state lawmakers will wreck the system for purposes of political posturing. In this case, the “cure” to purported problems with Common Core may be as bad as the disease.

The Oklahoman

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