The Future of School Standards in Oklahoma

Aug 27, 2014

The Oklahoma State Board of Education is meeting today to discuss the future of standards after the legislature repealed Common Core last May.

The board twice voted to delay the process in meetings this summer, but a vote is expected today to move the plan forward.

KOSU’s Michael Cross reports in the third part of our series on education standards in Oklahoma.

After a lengthy discussion at last month’s school board meeting, members voted five to one to table the new standards process till the next meeting.

“The Chair votes 'No'.”

That last vote came from outgoing Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Although she wasn’t too happy with the board’s decision to delay the process, she understands the members’ need to weigh their options.

“Concerns about the size of the number of people participating, talking about the process itself, talking about taking into consideration expense and I believe one board member was concerned about the amount of time teachers would be out of the classroom.”

Here’s what we do know:

  • House Bill 3399 which repealed Common Core was explicit in requiring outside groups to participate in creating new standards.
  • The standards must be more rigorous than Common Core which took several years and experts across the nation to create.
  • These new standards have to get legislative approval by March of 2016.

That’s just 19 months away.

While State Board Member Amy Ford understands the need for speed, she voted to delay the process to get everyone on the same page.

“The last thing that we want to do is go in with bullets flying. I think at the end of the day when you look at all the parties that are going to be involved in this: The idea that we all want the best standards for the kids of this state.”

She says it’s also important to know who the developers are to avoid the problems of Common Core.

“We’re going to make sure that it’s all Oklahomans. There are other states that have done development of standards in a very short period of time. We’re going to look at how they did it. That doesn’t mean they’re going to write our standards, but we’re going to look at their process.”

The conservative group Restore Oklahoma Public Education or ROPE which was instrumental in repealing Common Core doesn’t have a problem with looking at other states.

But, ROPE President Jenni White does take issue with the delay by the board.

“What we’re going to end up doing is backing ourselves into a corner and go ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got five minutes to write the best standards in the world’. How’s that going to happen? So at some point we’re going to have to say we’re going to move forward no matter what and we’ll work on it as we move forward.”

The process which should be approved at today’s meeting includes a steering committee that will oversee executive committees for reading and math.

The standards must be out of committee and ready for public comment by June of next year.

All this uncertainty is drawing concern from the business community which didn’t support the repeal of Common Core in the first place.

Jennifer Monies with the Oklahoma Educate Workforce Initiative, a partner of the State Chamber,  says the private sector doesn’t like uncertainty especially when it involves its future employees.

“There is a process that’s set up currently with the state department of education. Obviously, not only do we not know what the process will look like, but we don’t know who the superintendent’s going to be. Who’s going to be driving that train?”

And there’s the rub.

After Barresi was soundly defeated in the primary we know someone new will be the chairman of the State School Board.

Also, if there’s a new governor in November, a 2009 law would allow for the replacement of every board member.

Barresi promises the new process is designed to transcend any administration.

Board member Amy Ford agrees this should move smoothly whoever the new superintendent is.

“This train is going to be moving down the road and I’ll think we’re all going to be good and I think that regardless of who’s sitting in that Chairman’s seat as the state superintendent, I think the best interest of the students are what everybody at that table has in mind.”

Even after approval of new standards, Barresi says it will take one more school year for assessment and development.

So if all goes perfectly, new standards should be in place by 2017.