In the coming weeks and months state leaders, educators and parents will be discussing (and hopefully developing) new state education standards. This discussion has immense implications on the quality of education in Oklahoma, and the future prosperity of its residents.
On June 5, Gov. Mary Fallin signed HB 3399 to repeal the Common Core educational standards that the state had adopted along with more than 40 other states back in 2009. Despite garnering bipartisan support just a few short years ago, recently Common Core had become a lighting rod issue among the conservative base. Given our state’s political climate, Common Core’s repeal in Oklahoma is not a surprise, but it will be interesting to see what standards, if any, are now suitable to our state’s leaders.
As our leaders develop these new standards or expectations for student learning, let’s hope they adhere to these general principles:
1. Education standards should be developed by educators, and not politicians. If we want to do what’s best for our students, we need to rely upon the expertise of those who best understand educational theory and practice. Frankly, our legislators do not have that level of expertise to be dictating what students should be learning in math, reading, science and social studies.
2. Educators need to seek input from businesses when developing the new standards. If we are to have standards that best prepare students for future success in their careers, we need the input from those businesses about what skills they need their future workforce to have.
3. The Oklahoma standards need to be at least as rigorous as the standards in other states and other nations. If we fail to set high standards for our students, they will not achieve high outcomes. If we want our students to be competitive in the future workforce, our education standards need to be competitive today.
4. The Oklahoma standards also need to be similar to standards in other states. It’s important for businesses that operate in multiple states, that there be consistency across states in educational outcomes. If a corporation for example, wants to send employees to work in Oklahoma, they will want to be confident that the employees’ children will not be too far ahead, or too far behind, where they were in other states. In today’s economy where worker mobility has greater prevalence, educational consistency takes greater importance.
5. The standards should set goals, or expectations for student learning at each grade level, but should not dictate how teachers should teach. After all, it is the teacher in the classroom who best knows their students and who best knows how to help their students achieve the expected outcomes.
It is important to note that the Common Core standards, which have been much derided in Oklahoma, actually meet all five of these criteria. These standards were developed by education professionals with the support of state-supported organizations like the National Governors Association. Furthermore, the Common Core standards were developed with input from industry, and are still supported by business groups. Finally, the Common Core standards did not dictate how teachers should teach, or what curricula should be used, but did set clear, and rigorous expectations for student learning at each grade.
So, in the end, if our leaders are truly interested in developing the best educational standards for our students they likely will end up developing a set of standards that are not much different than the Common Core standards we’ve just denounced.
To read the Common Core standards, visit www.corestandards.org.
MICKEY HEPNER is the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Oklahoma. Hepner serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for The Oklahoma Academy.