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Indiana's Chief Common Core Foe Outlines Political Strategy

Last week I called up Indiana State Sen. Scott Schneider, a Republican who authored the legislation delaying implementation of the Common Core State Standards that passed the state's upper chamber earlier this year. That proposal, Senate Bill 193, is gathering dust in the House Education Committee, but as Schneider explained to me, he has another plan for advancing his anti-common-core agenda.

When the Senate's education committee passed a completely separate bill, House Bill 1427, it first tacked on language that, in essence, amounts to the same plan as Schneider's original bill delaying common core. (Hoosiers Against Common Core, which I mentioned in my story about opponents, noted this development back on April 4.) The amended House bill would prohibit schools from implementing the common core beyond the 2nd grade while a series of public hearings are conducted over the summer, allowing the state board of education to reconsider its decision to adopt the standards in English/language arts and math. Keep in mind that the board, faced with Schneider's efforts, has already reiterated its support for the core.

Schneider told me that this latest tacked-on language is updated in a few ways. First, the public hearings would all be held in the statehouse, unlike what he proposed in Senate Bill 193, in which the hearings could be conducted in various places around the state. In addition, state legislative staff, not state department of education staff [CORRECTED: I originally said "state board staff" but should have specified education department staff instead, as Schneider did in our conversation], would run the meetings. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the amended House bill says that Indiana, in case the common core is fully adopted against his wishes, still reserves the right to set its own pass/fail scores on the tests aligned to the new standards. That would clash with one of the fundamental tenets of the tests, the results of which are designed to be comparable across states due to shared cut scores.

First, I asked Schneider whether he wanted to have legislative employees, not state department employees, run the meetings in order to make the hearings potentially more favorable to common core foes. He denied it. Then I asked him whether the provision regarding Indiana's autonomy over pass/fail scores is a "poison pill" designed to ultimately sabotage Indiana's participation in the common core. While he denied that it was explicitly designed to sink the state's standards involvement, he did say that he was determined to preserve what he said was the state's appropriate and traditional role over its K-12 content standards.

If common core proponents insist that Indiana can't set those scores, Schneider argued, "That proves further it is very much top-down control and top-down governance."

Now, remember that Schneider's bill doesn't mess with the official common core implementation schedule set by the state, since it is only slated to proceed this year at the 2nd grade level anyway and not beyond that. However, the senator said that many schools are presently going ahead with implementation of the common core at higher grade levels on their own, and his bill would put a stop to those ahead-of-schedule activities by schools.

He also said he believed that despite GOP Rep. Bob Behning's refusal to give Senate Bill 193 a hearing in the House as chairman of the education committee, an increasing number of House members supported his plan.

Finally, I asked him if he could think of any reasons why first-year Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, would ultimately sign his bill if it reached him. Schneider replied that Pence's vote against the No Child Left Behind Act gave him optimism that the governor would view both NCLB and common core as inappropriate federal intrusion into the standards, a charge that common core supporters vigorously deny.

By the way, in a separate state, you can see Georgia Sen. William Ligon (also a Republican), talk about his own bill to require his state to drop the common core. At one point in the video I've linked to, he says: "The lack of the accountability to parents and taxpayers and teachers in this state has simply been stunning." That bill, however, is essentially dead for Georgia's 2013 session but could be revived next year.

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