Indiana’s rejection of Common Core reveals need to question our state’s leadership

by Jim Lang

Well, it’s official.

Indiana has become the first state to officially withdraw from the controversial Common Core Standards. Somewhere in Indiana I am sure conservatives who live in mortal fear of the federal government are celebrating their victory over big government intrusion.

But perhaps instead of celebrating we should take a final look at who brought Common Core to our doorsteps in the first place.

Let’s begin by examining the language in a January, 2010 memo from the Indiana Department of Education and superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett outlining Indiana’s feedback on the proposed Common Core Standards:

“Indiana supports the efforts put forth in collectively developing a core set of academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. Indiana is committed to preparing students with the knowledge and skills they need for college and careers as well as to be prepared to compete globally. As evidenced by our Race to the Top application, Indiana is committed to the adoption and implementation of the Common Core Standards in August 2010.”

In 2010, Republicans like Bennett embraced the Common Core initiative. In fact, it was one of the cornerstones of much of the GOP-led education “reform” movement.

And that Race to the Top application that is mentioned? That was a reference to Indiana’s failed attempt to “win” up to $250 million dollars in federal funding, which was partially linked to implementation of Common Core Standards.

Yes, Indiana Republicans were falling all over themselves in 2010 trying to secure millions of dollars from the same federal government that they so regularly criticize as intrusive.

And it is important to note that the real conservatives in halting the Republican attempt to link Indiana education to the federal government cash trough were members of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

That’s right. The ISTA refused to sign on to the Republican-led plan to secure federal Race to the Top funding, which is one of the reasons the application was abandoned.

Teachers – and their union — were the real conservatives here.

Fast forward then, to August of 2010, when the Indiana State Board of Education unanimously approved Common Core Standards, describing the standards as “robust and relevant to the real world.”

Who appointed the members of the Indiana State Board of Education that approved these standards?

Republican Governor Mitch Daniels.

In fact, a well-written 2013 editorial in the Indiana Economic Digest concisely outlines the history of Common Core, including the fact that it began as an initiative by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The federal government was never involved until President Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, linked the Common Core initiative to their competitive Race to the Top initiative.

My reasoning for re-examining this brief history of Common Core Standards in Indiana is not to condemn. As an educator and teacher, I questioned Common Core Standards from the beginning, but not because I felt they were a part of a maniacal federal government takeover of our schools. I just didn’t see any need to trade our state standards, which were among the strongest in the nation, for the Common Core Standards. And while I disagreed with the need for Common Core, I do believe that most who supported the initiative at the time were thinking about students first.

However, I also believe that Hoosier voters have a responsibility to their children and to our schools to remember that Republicans have controlled Indiana politics for 10 years. In that time, Indiana has proposed and passed more education “reform” legislation than any other state, measures that have radically altered Indiana public and private schools. In my view as an Indiana educator, most of that “reform” has been disastrous.

So, our Republican leaders now turn their backs on Common Core Standards – their plan – because they claim to oppose the very federal intrusion they once sought.

Apparently, they were wrong about Common Core. This should make us all wonder what other education legislation has been faulty, misguided, or just plain wrong.

Perhaps it is time to question and re-examine the political leadership in our own state instead of blaming Washington, D.C. for our frustrations and legislative missteps.