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Concerns don’t derail new social studies standards

State board member Cari Whicker, right, spoke in favor of proposed new social studies standards. (Scott Elliott)
State board member Cari Whicker, right, spoke in favor of proposed new social studies standards. (Scott Elliott)

The Indiana State Board of Education has approved new state-created academic standards, just not the ones everyone has been talking about.

While a debate rages about whether Indiana should maintain elements of Common Core standards in math and English, the state’s regular, six-year cycle for adopting social studies standards landed on the state board’s desk today.

Even social studies standards were not without controversy.

State board member Andrea Neal assailed them last week, issuing a statement calling the newly redesigned standards “a needless step backwards.” Neal asked a Princeton University professor to review them and Jeremy Stern advised leaving the prior standards unchanged.

Stern had given Indiana’s social studies standards a high rating in a prior review on behalf of the Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, which ranked Indiana No. 1 in the nation for social studies standards in 2011.

Stern’s assessment was that the standards had been diluted by the changes in the revision.

“As an eighth grade U.S. history teacher, I agree,” Neal said. “The standards themselves must reflect the core knowledge we want children to master. Key core knowledge is consistently downplayed or omitted.”

But board member Cari Whicker, who teaches social studies in an Huntington middle school, said she reviewed the new standards and found them to be virtually the same as what the state had before.

“Theres a misconception that we changed the standards and the process was kind of sneaky,” she said. “It’s a routine process. The elementary standards have changed minimally.”

The state board passed the new social studies standards 10-1 with only Neal voting no.

Before July, the board expects to consider new Indiana-created standards in English and math to replace Common Core standards the state adopted in 2010. Indiana and 45 other states did so with the goal of assuring that high school students across the nation graduated high school prepared for college or careers.

But over the past two years, skeptics have pushed back, complaining that following Common Core gave too much control to academic policy makers outside the state. 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.

A new bill this year would void the 2010 selection of Common Core as Indiana’s state standards. It could receive a final vote in the Senate as early as today.

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