Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 8, 2014

Kelly Hawes: Nation's schools need shared set of standards

Kelly Hawes CNHI Columnist
Greensburg Daily News

---- — Barack Obama and Mitch Daniels don’t agree on a lot, but they agree on this: The United States needs a common set of academic standards to define what every student ought to know.

Deep down, we all understand this. We all recognize that if a child suddenly moves from Kansas to Indiana or from Michigan to California, that child needs to be able to join his or her new classmates without having to do a lot of catching up. We know that what a third-grader needs to know in Indiana should be roughly the same as what a third-grader needs to know in any other state.

We need this national consensus so that a student from the Hoosier state has the same basic knowledge as a student from Texas or New York when they all find themselves competing for the same job or the same academic scholarship.

We want Indiana’s high school graduates to be able to compete on a world stage. We want them to have the knowledge they need to succeed in college, in a career and in life.

And yet, the Indiana General Assembly this year voted to make Indiana the first state in the country to move away from the Common Core. At least on the surface, that seems like a step in the wrong direction.

Of course, adopting a new set of standards doesn’t have to mean rejecting the Common Core entirely.

The Indiana Department of Education already has a draft of the new standards set for a vote by the State Board of Education on April 28, and according to an internal report, those standards aren’t entirely new.

The report found that more than 70 percent of the proposed standards for sixth through 12th grade came directly from Common Core and about 20 percent were edited versions of the national standards. Contrary to what some folks might tell you, that’s not really a bad thing.

Few would argue that Indiana should shy away from adopting standards that are higher than those imposed by other states. We want our kids to be the best and the brightest.

But that shouldn’t mean starting over.

The Common Core replaced a patchwork of standards that varied from state to state, and we should not go back to that.

We need the baseline of learning that the Common Core provides. We need standards that every state can share.

And we need it soon.

The Indiana Department of Education faces a July 1 deadline to adopt its new standards. That’s less than three months from now.

The department can’t meet that deadline by starting from scratch, and it shouldn’t have to.

This is not a new discussion.

Talk of a national set of standards dates back at least to the 1980s with a report published by a commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan. The Clinton Administration pushed through a series of initiatives, and George W. Bush followed with No Child Left Behind. Then along came President Barack Obama with his Race to the Top.

In the meantime, the National Governors Association, state education commissioners and other groups began developing what is now known as the Common Core.

Indiana was among the leaders in the development of the Common Core standards. Perhaps it will now be among the leaders in taking those standards to the next level.

This isn’t about politics or about Uncle Sam dictating the curriculum in our classrooms. This is about making sure Hoosier students have the same shot as students from every other state.

We can do this. Indiana’s children are depending on us.

Kelly Hawes is veteran journalist with CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. He can be reached at kelly.hawes@indianamediagroup.com.