Opponents of the Common Core State Standards have scored a significant victory—an Indiana bill that would slow down implementation of the standards pending a series of public hearings this summer has been approved by the state legislature. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, for his signature.
I wrote about this bill earlier this month when I spoke to GOP Sen. Scott Schneider, who has been the driving force behind anti-common-core legislative efforts in Indiana this year. The legislation essentially pauses full implementation of the common core until a series of hearings is held and a new study of the standards is conducted over the next several months, after which the state Board of Education must reconsider its 2010 decision to adopt the standards.
As I noted in a separate blog item earlier this month, it's not entirely clear if Pence will sign the bill. When discussing the issue, he mentioned his vote against the No Child Left Behind Act more than a decade ago citing his suspicion of federal efforts in education, which some say the common core ultimately represents. But he hasn't committed one way or the other.
Remember, the bill that has been sent to Pence does not require the state board to drop or repeal the common core, as many bills in other states have. (A separate bill Schneider authored to do just that in Indiana fell short.) Also remember that the state board, when asked to discuss Schneider's anti-common-core efforts earlier this year, reiterated its support for the standards.
But as Kyle Stokes writes for StateImpact NPR, the bill leaves schools in a potentially difficult position when it comes to implementing the standards. Indiana kindergarten 1st grade classes are already being taught based on the common core, and the bill doesn't kill the common-core implementation that's already taking place in those grades. If Pence signs the legislation, schools have to be concerned that any of their efforts to implement the standards over the next several months could be for naught. Of course, if that causes them to slow down common core implementation more so than they might have otherwise, you won't hear Schneider and others complain.
So why are Schneider and his allies going through all this trouble if the arbiter of this movement, the state board, has pledged that it will fail? Possibly the most important reason is that it will allow them to keep the issue alive, if nothing else, for several months. It will provide the opportunity for common core opponents, both those inside the state and prominent opponents outside of Indiana, to hammer home the message that the standards represent an improper intrusion of Uncle Sam into Indiana's schools, one that ultimately harms students. They have the chance to "flood the zone," to use a D.C. media phrase that echoes the language of sports, and hope that extended media coverage helps their case. (Of course, core supporters could argue that the extended spotlight on the hearings might only make core opponents look more foolish.)
If politicians begin to feel public opinion being swayed by these activities, then they in turn could tell the state board, which may not be immune from political pressure after all, to drop the common core. One could say that it's the equivalent of an out-of-power party's decision to run a candidate in an election against a powerful, popular incumbent who seems destined to triumph. If something disastrous for the incumbent suddenly occurs, then victory falls right into the underdog's lap.
If Pence signs, it could mean a reckoning for state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. The first-year superintendent has taken a cautious approach to the standards, saying they should be studied further. But if the public hearings proceed and actual further study takes place, it seems plausible that eventually she will have to take a clear stance on the common core. When she campaigned against incumbent superintendent Tony Bennett last year, Ritz, a Democrat, expressed skepticism about the standards.