My “Point” About the New Indiana State Standards and Common Core

Yesterday, the AP picked up this story: Indiana Approves Common Core Replacement Standards, complete with this photo:

Common Core Indiana
It ran with this caption: “Stephanie Engelman makes a point as she and other community members speak to Board of Education members, who will be voting on controversial new academic standards that would replace Common Core in Indiana, Monday, April 28, 2014, Indianapolis. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer)”

Hey, that’s me!

So, what’s the hubbub all about?  What point was I making, exactly?

Well, actually it wasn’t just me, but literally twenty to thirty concerned citizens who came down to the Indiana Government Center to express our views.

I was but one speaker yesterday, and so many of them were excellent,  making their points, backed by facts, figures, personal anecdotes and emotional pleas, that I feel humbled to have wound up as the “face” of us all in this AP article which is now gone global.

Sadly, our voices made little difference and the State of Indiana now boasts new educational standards which are being widely mocked as inferior, even to the Common Core from which we had worked so hard to disentangle ourselves.

The news outlets really did not present our side of the story well, even though they used sound bites from yours truly. 🙂  Here and here and here.  (Yes, I do look like I’m about to cry when talking to Derrick Thomas.  I wasn’t, really.  I guess I just look a little tragic when I’m nervous.)

So I’d like to attempt to succinctly share why so many of us would take time out of our lives to fight for this cause.  Not an easy task, and I’m sure I’ll leave much out.  (Hoosiers Against Common Core is an excellent resource on this topic.)

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin, but here goes.

First, let’s just get this out of the way:  The new Indiana State Standards contain 70% of the same content as the Common Core.  One can easily identify many standards that were literally cut and pasted from CC into the Indiana standards.  This is not “for Hoosiers, by Hoosiers” as Gov. Mike Pence is claiming.  (here’s a great article from Michelle Malkin).

These new Indiana standards are, indeed, a sloppy rewrite of Common Core, with a few things added in, but it didn’t come together to form a meaningful whole, and Dr. James Milgram, in an open letter to Hoosiers, has described them as “a dramatic example of what not to do.”

But what’s it matter?  After all, the standards are only a guideline of what needs to be taught, and it provides the floor, not the ceiling, right?

Sadly, that’s not true.  For one thing, the teachers want to teach what’s going to be on the standardized test, close to the time at which it’s going to be tested, so that the students will perform well, the school will receive good marks, and the teacher will keep her job.  This prevents teachers from reaching for the ceiling, as they fear the students will forget what’s on the floor… the floor being that which will be tested in the next few months.

In addition, the standards drive our curriculum.  That’s why nearly every school in the country has purchased new textbooks in the past few years.

(Do you hear that “CHA-CHING!” coming from Pearson, Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill? And people wonder what’s driving this!)

So what’s wrong with those text books?  Well, if you have elementary school kids in a mainstream school, you’ve seen the “fuzzy math” that they’re bringing home in their backpacks!  Math that’s filled with confusing story problems.  Math where they’re asked to explain their answers – a task that I would find difficult, and which is definitely developmentally inappropriate for elementary school children!

This is math where students learn three or four different methods to arrive at a solution, before finally learning the standard algorithm at the very end.  They then practice that algorithm nine times before moving on to the next topic.

What’s missing?  MASTERY.  They never MASTER their basic math facts, let alone that standard algorithm.  I’ve seen my own very bright son struggle with this very challenge.

Sadly, Stanford Math Professor, James Milgram, has evaluated the Common Core and maintains that, by the eighth grade, American students under Common Core will be two years behind their international counterparts.  (Here’s a good article.) In a world where our children compete with international students for college placement, this is especially concerning.

How about the English Language Arts standards?  Board of Ed member Andrea Neal addressed these beautifully yesterday, a bit of which was quoted here.  Another excellent critic is Dr. Terrence Moore, professor at Hillsdale College and author of The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core.  Moore refers to the “dumbing down” of our education, and reflects on the fact that the focus is taken off of true literature, and placed on informational texts and short stories, which do not contribute to a student’s understanding of “the human condition.” A great article can be found here.

I could go on and on, my friends, but the bottom line is this:  The Common Core standards will not drive our educational system to produce students who are brilliant thinkers.  Instead, it will lead to students who are automatons.  Students who might be ready to do a job, but will not be ready to use their God-given talents to create, develop, and innovate in order to make the world a better place.

And make no mistake.  Common Core is very much alive and well in the state of Indiana.

Many thanks to the leadership of Erin Tuttle and Heather Crossin here in our Hoosier state.  Without these two powerhouse women, our fight against Common Core never would have gotten off the ground. And thanks, also, to my sister, Suzanne, who brought this issue to my attention and finally convinced me to (begrudgingly) get involved.

I know that I’ve only begun to make the case here, and I’m sure there are many who agree and disagree with what I’ve said.  What would you add? Please tell us what you think!

7 comments on “My “Point” About the New Indiana State Standards and Common Core
  1. Michelle Fritz says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I am thankful that I am not alone. Well done.

    • stephanie says:

      Thanks, Michelle. You’re not alone at all. In fact, I think there’s been a pretty good movement up in your neck of the woods. If I hear of anything up that way, I’ll keep you posted!

  2. Jennifer Bohn Behrer says:

    Having taught for 10 years(I left teaching in 2007) I know as a teacher and a parent how frustrating these Indiana Standards are to begin with. What’s especially frustrating now is that my 9 year old(3rd grade) is afraid of not passing ISTEP! There should not be that kind of pressure on any student, no matter the age.
    Also the material they are bringing home is so confusing, even for an educated professional like myself. How embarrassing!
    As a teacher, it’s all about the test. There’s no room for imagination, or to teach a life lesson when the opportunity presents itself. It’s ALL about the standards and their time frames.
    We need to go back to mastering skills, holding students, and parents, accountable for grades, behavior and stop making excuses for why our students aren’t cutting it. Students shouldn’t just learn to test, they should be tested to see what they’ve learned.

    • stephanie says:

      Thanks for your input, Jennifer. Hearing it from a teacher is gratifying… and depressing. It is, indeed, a sad state of affairs.

  3. Amy says:

    I saw someone on the local news the other night that looked quite similar to you, but I was dealing with early evening craziness with the kids and only caught a quick glance. I was going to ask you this week if it was you! 🙂 Great job, Stephanie!

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