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The nation’s eyes are on Indiana as it reconsiders the Common Core academic standards that are supposed to raise student achievement and standardize what children learn across the country.

The operative word is “supposed.” These national academic standards were adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia with little data to back them and almost no debate. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels and School Superintendent Tony Bennett pushed Indiana’s Board of Education to enact them in August 2010. Since then, questions have arisen about their quality and cost.

House Bill 1427 pauses their implementation and requires the board to conduct a “comprehensive evaluation.” It also sets up a legislative study committee to compare the new standards to the ones Indiana previously had in place as well as other standards deemed exemplary by experts.

Indiana might prove to be a trendsetter. Lawmakers in at least a dozen states have said they too are concerned about the standards.

The concerns fall into three areas:

  • Indiana already had well-regarded language arts and math standards, and it’s not clear that the Common Core standards are an improvement.
  • They’re expensive. New standards mean all-new textbooks, instructional materials, and standardized achievement tests, at an estimated cost of $3.7 billion nationally.
  • There’s no reason to think national standards will improve student achievement. State standards haven’t done so, even when they have been comprehensive and rigorous.

Defenders of the Common Core are spewing a great deal of hyperbole in their attempt to preserve it.

Writing recently in the Indianapolis Business Journal, David Dresslar made the dubious claim that businesses looking to expand would eliminate Indiana as a potential site if it withdrew from Common Core. Dresslar is executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis.

A strong case against the standards was made in a recent report by the centrist Brookings Institution, which found, “The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement.”

As a middle-school teacher of English and history, I’ve had the chance to review dozens of textbooks and workbooks being marketed by publishers as “Common Core aligned.” These new materials are no better than what we have already, except they are more explicitly tied to coming assessments, which will be no better than what we have already.

High-quality instructional materials in the hands of effective teachers are more likely to affect achievement than a rewriting of standards. Education reformers should stop reinventing the wheel and focus their attention on the recruitment, training and retention of excellent teachers for every classroom.

Indiana legislators made a wise move when they decided to pause implementation of the Common Core. Other states will follow.

Andrea Neal is adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org. The opinions are the writer's.

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Senior Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.