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Oklahoma School Chiefs: Abandoning Common Core ‘Impossible’

A top school administrator in Oklahoma is unhappy about the state’s abandonment of Common Core.

While other states are mandating revisions to Common Core be phased in over time, Oklahoma went a step further. Under a bill signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in June, Oklahoma’s schools must immediately abandon Common Core and return to pre-2010 state standards in math and English, while they wait for the state to craft new standards in the subjects that are required to have no similarity with Common Core.

Dr. Keith Ballard, superintendent for the Tulsa School District, the state’s second largest, says the abrupt change of course the state is mandating demands more than is possible.

Tulsa’s teachers, Ballard said, had been readying themselves for Common Core’s full implementation for more than three years, and had crafted new lesson plans accordingly. Ordering them to do an about-face less than three months before a new school year, Ballard told The Daily Caller News Foundation, was a “highly unfair” demand that simply could not be met.

“It was impossible,” Ballard said with deliberate emphasis on the last word. “You can’t ask them to do the impossible.”

Even if returning completely to Oklahoma’s per-2010 standards could be done immediately, Ballard says it would be a bad idea.

“They were not rigorous enough,” he said of Oklahoma’s old standards. “We were testing to a lower standard and teaching to a lower standard.”

Ballard said that after capable teachers and administrators, he believed strong standards to be the most important component of a good education. Keeping higher standards, he said, is a matter of necessity, not choice.

As a result, Ballard said, while his school district will obey the state legislature’s edict, they will also go above and beyond it in order to stick with what he says are heightened standards.

“The law is the law, so what we’ve done this summer is we have crosswalked the standards we plan to teach this year back to the old standards,” Ballard said. Tulsa’s teachers will reach Oklahoma’s old standard, but in addition, “Nothing in the law that says you can’t teach above the standards.”

That inevitably means keeping at least some portions of Common Core, he said.

“We are continuing with rigorous standards. Does that mean you’ll be doing some Common Core? Sure. I have to answer truthfully.”

Ballard said that he is in regular correspondence with other school leaders around the state and said many are following a similar course of action. He emphasized, however, that in his view this was not a retention of Common Core, but rather a continued commitment to high standards, which would inevitably incorporate pieces of Common Core.

One of Ballard’s colleagues, new Oklahoma City superintendent Robert Neu, has expressed similar sentiments. Neu told a local news station last month that he had “no choice” but to use Common Core as the city’s base curriculum.

“There’s no way that we can retool and start school…with a different curriculum,” Neu said.

Ballard was a supporter of Common Core throughout its years of implementation in Oklahoma, but says he was not surprised by the backlash it experienced.

“People saw federal control and a federal takeover, and that was not the intent,” he said. He faulted Oklahoma’s state school board and Superintendent Janet Barresi for implementing Common Core without adequately involving Oklahoma’s “fiercely independent” citizens.

“Leadership is having the ability to involve the community,” he said.

Despite his belief that Common Core was just fine, Ballard remains upbeat about Oklahoma’s ability to create high-quality standards of its own to replace them, though he says the requirement that new standards not have any similarity to Common Core is misguided.

“We need to impanel a group of real experts,” he said. “A lot of good work went into CC, and we should not abandon that.” He suggested involving leading opponents of Common Core in the process as a method to build trust and avoid having the state endure another battle over standards a few years from now.

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