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What Does Indiana's Common-Core Legislation Really Mean?

In the past few days, my colleagues Catherine Gewertz and Michele McNeil have both added to the reporting I've done on the bill that is advertised as "pausing" the Common Core State Standards in Indiana. But there has been some confusion about what the bill, which GOP Gov. Mike Pence is expected to sign, will mean for Indiana schools.

Subsequent comments from Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, have shed a little more light about the effect of House Bill 1427, which requires a policy and fiscal review of the standards.

In short, Ritz said that the bill does not really pause the standards in the state at all. Let's try to clarify, at least somewhat, what that means.

The bill does not affect the common-core implementation that already has taken place for kindergarten and 1st grade in the state. The next grade slated for common-core implementation this year is the 2nd grade. The department's timetable called for Indiana's previous content standards to be replaced by the common-core standards. If Pence signs the bill, that will no longer happen. Instead, in effect, both Indiana's previous content standards and the common core will be in effect for the 2nd grade and beyond. As Ritz told Politics K-12, the Indiana's prior standards will stay around for awhile longer if Pence signs the bill.

What would it mean for two different sets of content standards to be in effect for Indiana students not in kindergarten or the 1st grade? It's quite possible that nobody knows the answer.

Sen. Scott Schneider, a Republican who has been riding herd on anti-common-core efforts in the state, told me last month that his plan (as expressed in the legislation) is to stop any "unofficial" implementation of the common core that is moving ahead of the state's official timetable. So a lot of decisions about common-core implementation may be left in the hands of individual superintendents and principals if the bill becomes law.

One other point should be made. The Indiana Board of Education reiterated its support for the standards this legislative session. Remember, the state board still has final authority over whether the state uses the standards—Schneider's legislation doesn't touch that power. However, Pence has a trump card to defeat pro-common-core activists, if he chooses to use it. The state board has 10 members, but Pence can replace six of them this summer through the appointment process. It's hard to imagine that he won't be sure of each new member's position on common core, pro or con, before he makes his appointments. The state board unanimously adopted the standards in 2010.

So in theory, Indiana's state board could still act as an unquenchable firewall to anti-common-core efforts in the state. But common-core supporters won't be able to take the board's support for granted, at least until the views of Pence's new appointees are known, and then only if those views are favorable to the standards.

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