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Democrats: Is there enough time for new academic standards?

Notes from a committee during work to create new Indiana math standards in last year.
Notes from a committee during work to create new Indiana math standards in last year.
Scott Elliott

The House Education Committee today advanced a bill that would void Common Core standards in Indiana despite concerns from Democrats about whether it allows enough time to put new standards in place.

Senate Bill 91, passed by the full Senate last month, passed the House Education Committee 10-2. It sets a July 1 deadline for new standards to be adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education to replace Common Core.

Democrats on the panel said they doubted Indiana schools and teachers could be ready by the fall to teach new standards. That could create problems if students test scores fall as the scores are tied to accountability measures that can cause teachers to be fired or schools to face state takeover.

“It’s pretty clear to me there is going to be some major implementation questions,” Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes. “We’re just way too enthusiastic. Whether we adopt the best standards in world, if we don’t implement them right we’re facing a potential disaster. Then we will make kids and schools scapegoats.”

Indiana was among the earliest states to adopt Common Core in 2010. Now 45 states have signed on with the goal of assuring that high school students graduate prepared for college or careers. But in Indiana, Common Core came under increasing criticism from conservatives who argued it ceded too much control over what is taught to policymakers outside the state or that the standards are not as strong as standards Indiana created in 2009.

In 2013, the legislature approved a bill to “pause” implementation of Common Core to allow time for a new review of the standards and a new vote of the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1, 2014. That review process has become an effort led by the Indiana State Board of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to set new, Indiana-specific academic standards to replace Common Core. Draft standards were released Wednesday for public comment. Public hearings are scheduled for next week in Indianapolis, Plymouth and Sellersburg. Ritz has said the state board hopes to approve the new standards on April 2.

That would satisfy the requirements in Senate Bill 91, which would void the Common Core and expect new standards to be in place for next school year. But some are starting to wonder if that timeline is realistic.

Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, asked if adjustments could be made to phase in the new standards. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, voted against the bill, arguing it could prove unfair to teachers and students.

“I don’t think we’ve looked at the timeline thoroughly enough,” he said. “We need to make sure teachers have a fair chance.”

The bill moves next to the House floor, where it could be voted on as early as next week. Other bills that moved forward in the House Education Committee today include:

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