Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) on Monday signed new legislation that makes his state the first to opt out of Common Core standards, amid conservative outrage over the education benchmarks.
It’s the first major victory opponents of Common Core, who say the national curriculum standards rob states of the right to set their own standards. Conservative activists have been pushing to roll back Common Core requirements in several states, some of which have slowed or paused implementation.
The Common Core program, though, isn’t a federal mandate. It was developed by the National Governors Association, through a panel led by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) and then-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R). Indiana was one of the first of the 45 states to adopt the standards, under Pence’s predecessor, Mitch Daniels (R).
But it generated a backlash from conservative activists that has built into a potent political force. About 100 bills to slow, stop or reverse Common Core requirements were introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an 85 percent increase over the year before.
In a statement, Pence said the new law will give Indiana more local control.
“I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level,” Pence said. “By signing this legislation, Indiana has taken an important step forward in developing academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high, and I commend members of the General Assembly for their support.”
But the new law doesn’t mean Indiana students will be learning anything dramatically different from kids in neighboring states. The legislation strikes references to Common Core and requires the state board of education to adopt what it calls “college and career readiness” standards that meet national and international benchmarks and comply with federal standards while maintaining Indiana’s sovereignty.
It does not specifically prohibit Common Core goals from being included in the new state standards, and some critics of the board of education say the standards they are developing hew too closely to Common Core. The bill still requires Indiana to meet federal education standards in order to preserve education funding.
That’s similar to the approach several other states are taking: Pass standards nearly identical to Common Core, but under a different name. An Oklahoma state Senate committee on Monday passed a version that would strip the Common Core name while leaving many or most of the same requirements intact.
“You’ve got these governors who understand the business argument for keeping Common Core,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think thank. “But they’ve got this tea party base that’s really fired up about this issue, so they’re trying to find a way to walk this fine line by giving voice to the tea party concerns without backing away from higher standards.”
The Indiana bill, which began its life as a straight repeal of Common Core standards, was changed so much and left so many of the common requirements intact that the original author, state Sen. Scott Schneider (R), pulled his name and voted against the final version.
The backlash against Common Core has become a potent political force within Republican political circles, and even politicians who once backed the higher education standards are muting their support.
“I don’t think [Common Core] is as extreme as a lot of people paint it out to be. What I do think it is, is you’re treating South Carolina kids like they’re California kids,” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who runs a state where opposition to Common Core has been especially fierce, said in a November interview. “They’re still trying to put us all in one basket, and we’re not to be put in one basket.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has been supportive of the new rules, didn’t help the cause when he said in November that opposition comes from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Duncan later apologized for his remarks.
Haley and several other Republican governors have said that the Obama administration’s vocal support for Common Core standards are driving some of the conservative outrage in their states. “It’s now being pushed as if it’s a D.C. issue,” she said.