Common Core Remains at Center of Education Stage

The Common Core was a critical component of the Daniels-Bennett education reforms that were pursued over the last four years. Developed through leadership of the National Governors Association and the Council of State Chief School Officers, these math and English standards are designed to provide a common and rigorous benchmark for students that can be compared across state lines and can be benchmarked against our international competitors.  Adoption of the standards is optional, but Indiana is one of 46 states that committed to the standards after a review by the Indiana Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education. The Obama administration has also supported the Common Core by offering additional points in grant competitions to states that have adopted the standards and through two large grants to help support the development of corresponding assessments.  Indeed, Indiana has been one of the lead states in helping to develop one of those assessments.

Unfortunately, that support by the Obama administration has caused some critics to suggest, incorrectly, that the standards have actually been developed by the federal government and/or have been “mandated” by the federal government. Neither accusation is correct. In fact, the real developers of the standards – a consortium of governors and state superintendents – have asked the feds to stop being so “supportive” so that such concerns can be allowed to settle. But here in Indiana, those concerns have emerged most prominently from a small fringe element of the Tea Party that have demanded Indiana withdraw from the Common Core.  Moreover, this opposition is supported by a handful of national researchers from mostly far-right think tanks that have claimed that the standards are poorly designed, lacking in rigor and too expensive to implement. Other researchers and think tanks – along with education officials from Indiana – have rebuked these criticisms; yet, the debate continues.
On Wednesday, Indiana took center stage in that debate as local Tea Party activists and national critics joined forces to support a proposed mandate to ban Indiana’s further participation in the Common Core. The Indiana Chamber was the lead presenter among three dozen allies, most of them organized by the education reform group, Stand for Children, which opposed the proposed ban. While the proponents of the ban were limited primarily to a small but passionate number of parents and national think tank representatives, the opponents of the ban included a broad coalition including the Fordham Institute, Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UIndy’s CELL, Goodwill Education Industries, Indiana PTA, Indiana Association of School Principals, ISTA, Indiana Federation of Teachers and more than a dozen classroom and building-level educators.

The Indiana Chamber has acknowledged that some of the critics – at least those focused on contents of the standards rather than hysterical exaggerations of federal intrusion – may have some legitimate concerns that should be evaluated.  But we’ve also noted that those concerns, if legitimate, can be offset by the flexibilities contained within the Common Core and through corresponding adoptions of rigorous assessments and accountability measures. But more importantly, we have urged the Legislature to leave such determinations in the hands of our state’s education leaders, including the Department of Education, the Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education, rather than subjecting our standards to the politicized environment of the Legislature. Indeed, while critics of the Common Core have heaped praise on Indiana’s previous state standards, they consistently overlook the fact that those highly-rated standards were adopted through the same process as was conducted when Indiana adopted the Common Core, and that the Legislature played no role in those adoptions.

Senator Schneider has already drafted one amendment to his bill that would remove the ban from Common Core but would invalidate our state’s previous adoption, require a new adoption process with extensive public input and implement a new ban on Indiana participation in either of the Common Core assessments. Newly-elected State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has occasionally expressed some concerns about the new standards, has urged the Legislature to allow Common Core implementation to continue but has promised to conduct a review of the standards that would be completed by the end of 2013. The Indiana Chamber supports the Ritz recommendation and notes that such a review would be helpful for determining how best to use the flexibilities that are allowed in the multi-state agreement. The next step of this debate will likely occur on January 30, when the Senate Education Committee is expected to amend and vote on SB 193.

Businessman Scott Schneider to Replace Sen. Lubbers

In a crowded room filled with Republican precinct committee voters and plenty of interested observers, former Indianapolis City-County Councilman Scott Schneider defeated former State Rep. John Ruckelshaus and City-County Councilman Ryan Vaughn for the Senate District 30 seat Tuesday night.  Businessman Chris Douglas dropped out of the race Tuesday morning as we reported on Twitter (@IBRG). 

The contest took two ballots to decide a winner, but Schneider nearly shocked the room by coming up just one vote shy of a majority on the first ballot (Schneider 49, Vaughn 37, Ruckelshaus 12 and one spoiled ballot).

A caucus election is notorious for voters being deceptive when it comes to who they are going to vote for, but the Schneider camp was keenly accurate on its vote counts and only missed the mark by one vote.  It is also interesting to note that the Douglas camp was equally accurate on the vote totals before pulling out.  The Douglas vote count would have also placed him in third place on the first ballot.  Many insiders were clearly surprised that 1) Vaughn did not have the lead on the first ballot and 2) Schneider nearly received a majority of the 99 votes.

On the second ballot, the only unanswered question was how many votes would shift to Schneider to give him the victory.  The answer was nearly all.  The tally on the second ballot was Schneider 61 and Vaughn 38.  Schneider gained 12 of the 13 (Ruckelshaus and spoiled) votes from the first ballot.  Kudos must be given to Schneider for his ability to win a caucus election when most observers predicted he would finish second or third.  It is also interesting to note that all three candidates felt they had enough votes committed to them to win on the first ballot.

Schneider and his family are longtime small business owners who have been involved in politics for a number of years and have an excellent track record of winning tough races.  Schneider was introduced by Rep. Cindy Noe. IBRG worked closely with Scott and his father, Bill, to help Noe win during a three-way primary.  Schneider adds a much needed voice of understanding and business community experience to the Legislature and is an individual with strong convictions.  He will likely turn in the official paperwork to the Secretary of State and the Senate Pro Tempore today and a swearing in date will soon be announced.

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