INDIANAPOLIS | The state is poised to become an education island after the Republican-controlled Senate approved legislation Wednesday fully withdrawing Indiana from the Common Core standards used by 45 other states to define what students should learn at each grade level.
Fueled by fears the federal government seeks to control local schools, the Senate voted 35-13 to accept changes made by the Republican-controlled House to Senate Bill 91, sending the proposal to Republican Gov. Mike Pence for his signature or veto.
The measure requires the State Board of Education adopt by July 1 college- and career-ready standards that are "the highest standards in the United States," "maintain Indiana sovereignty," qualify for a federal waiver to No Child Left Behind requirements and align with college entrance exams.
The Common Core standards the state education board adopted as Indiana's standards in 2010, based on the recommendation of then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, both Republicans, are voided when the new standards are approved.
"We are moving beyond Common Core and have put this in our past," said state Sen. Scott Schneider, who has led a 2-year campaign against Common Core.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee and a former Gary teacher, said it will be a costly mistake to quit Common Core, especially for school corporations that already set their curriculum and purchased materials aligned with Common Core standards.
"It's costing this state $24 million to change," Rogers said. "We could take that $24 million and put it into early childhood education."
She added that college entrance exams, like the SAT, are matching their questions to Common Core standards, and Hoosier students therefore may not score as well. Also, students moving from Illinois to Northwest Indiana, or vice versa, will have to deal with different expectations of what they should know.
"Common Core has always meant common sense to me," Rogers said.
State Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, a retired teacher, said whipsawing state educational standards have left Hoosier teachers unsure what to teach since they've spent the past three years under Common Core and nearly all classroom materials now produced in the U.S. are based on Common Core.
Moreover, he said, teachers don't know how they'll be evaluated because the legislation requires students next year take the ISTEP+ exam, which is based on an earlier set of state standards.
"Teachers are back in their classrooms saying, 'What do they want us to do?' " Skinner said.
Common Core standards were developed by the national associations of governors and state school superintendents to set a shared understanding of what students should know and be able to demonstrate at each grade level, with an eye toward being able to compete nationally and globally.
But after Democratic President Barack Obama endorsed the standards, Tea Party groups and other Republicans began to view Common Core as a federal takeover of their local schools, even though state leaders created Common Core and Indiana law allows the state to modify those standards at will.
The Republican-controlled Legislature decided in 2013 to "pause" implementing Common Core, and directed state education officials — led by Democratic state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz — to begin crafting separate Indiana-written standards.
A draft version of those standards, which likely will become the new state standards if Pence signs Senate Bill 91 into law, already has been decried by Common Core foes as too similar to Common Core.
Schneider warned Pence, who appoints State Board of Education members, that the standards ultimately adopted had better live up to the governor's State of the State promise to create standards that "will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and will be among the best in the nation."
"If what comes out at the end of the process remains Common Core under a different name or under a different guise, in my opinion that would be a monumental violation of the public trust," Schneider said.