Oklahoma’s long-awaited replacement for Common Core is on the verge of being implemented, but is now being assailed by critics who argue the new school standards will represent a step backward for the state’s schools.
Oklahoma joined most other U.S. states in adopting Common Core back in 2010, but then about-faced just a few years later after a grassroots movement against the standards sprung up. In 2014, Oklahoma repealed Common Core under a state law that abolished the standards and required the state to create and adopt entirely unrelated new standards.
Now, nearly two years later, those standards are on the brink of being implemented. The proposed Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS) were officially revealed several weeks ago, and the Oklahoma legislature has until the end of Wednesday to reject them or else they will automatically become law.
The success or failure of OAS is of some national relevance, because Oklahoma is thus far the first state to make a concerted effort to break away from Common Core. South Carolina and Indiana both officially repealed Common Core, but their replacement standards have been called out for being very similar, with just a handful of changes. Other states, like New Jersey, have “replaced” Common Core by doing little more than changing the name and the wording of a few standards.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, is a test for what happens when a state makes a strong commitment to divorcing itself from Common Core entirely. And according to quite a few critics, Oklahoma is failing the test.
Achieve, an education non-profit that evaluates state education standards and helped develop Common Core, has released a lengthy analysis arguing that, with a few exceptions, OAS is generally inferior to Common Core due to being less rigorous and overly vague.
For instance, Oklahoma’s standards don’t include a sample reading list by grade level (an unsurprising decision, since Common Core was attacked for imposing inappropriate content because sample texts included works like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye“). The lack of such a list means teachers will have little guidance in deciding how quickly to ramp up the difficulty of reading materials in their classrooms, which could lead to substantially different norms prevailing across the state.
As Achieve points out, several of the new OAS standards are vague and some even repeat year to year. In fourth grade, for instance, students are expected to “compare and contrast details in literary and nonfiction/informational texts to discriminate various genres.” By seventh grade, they are expected to “analyze details in literary and nonfiction/informational texts to distinguish genres,” which means the same thing and therefore shows no progression from year to year.
Another digression from Common Core is that OAS doesn’t require students study America’s founding documents. Common Core requires high school students to read and comprehend the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution’s preamble, the Bill of Rights, and Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. OAS contains no such requirement.
On the math side, Achieve faults OAS for generally being vague, repeating several standards in multiple grades, and focusing on mathematical processes (such as how to do multiplication by hand) to the detriment of mathematical concepts. In the words of Achieve, OAS teaches students what they “need to… be able to do” but not what they “need to know.” That’s a recipe for trouble when students move from elementary math to high school and beyond, the group says.
Since Achieve has long favored Common Core, its criticisms of OAS may be unsurprising. But the standards are also drawing criticism from some Common Core critics, who say Oklahoma is bungling a golden opportunity by going backward instead of trying to surpass Common Core.
Sandra Stotsky, a university professor who helped craft Common Core but later denounced it, has pointed out the new standards have nothing distinctively Oklahoman about them, even though that was a goal of legislators in 2014.
“You would never know these standards were written by Oklahomans for Oklahoma. They could have been written by people on Mars for Martians,” Stotsky told Oklahoma lawmakers at a recent meeting. “There is absolutely nothing in these standards that has an Oklahoma touch, and you want students to end high school knowing something about the state in which they have lived and where they may go to college or do something else as citizens.”
Shortly before the final version of OAS was revealed, Stotsky denounced it as vague and almost devoid of value for guiding education.
“Common Core’s ELA standards were not quite as empty as these proposed standards are,” she said. “This document is completely empty. An empty document does not develop young minds, or help teachers to develop a sound and rigorous curriculum.”
Even the old grassroots activists against Common Core in Oklahoma have gotten in on the action. The Stop Common Core in Oklahoma Facebook group, for instance, is pushing for the standards to be rejected, criticizing them as subpar and lacking in any unique Oklahoma touch. Another group, Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment, has bashed the new standards as well, calling for them to be rejected until improvements are made.
Whether this sudden surge of opposition will be enough to derail OAS remains to be seen. One member of Oklahoma’s board of education, Lee Baxter, argued the last-minute opposition is simply a stunt by Common Core supporters to derail Oklahoma’s replacement, and urged lawmakers to forge ahead with standards he said are “good enough.”
“We get this report from a very suspect organization — the architect of Common Core, and we rejected Common Core,” he said. “The Legislature needs to approve the standards. Sometimes perfect can be the complete enemy of good enough or good enough for right now.”
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