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Use common sense in Common Core debate

Sound Hoosier rules were the basis for national standards

The national debate over Common Core State Standards has intensified in recent months as several states have begun rejecting the standards in favor of drafting their own. My home state, Indiana, was the first to choose this path. Our actions have been mischaracterized for several reasons, many of them political.

As a public school educator of four decades, I have been involved in teaching several sets of standards. The new Indiana standards are solid.

We have been accused of just rebranding Common Core. That is not a fair accusation simply because of how much Common Core borrowed from our 2006 standards, the same ones to which we hear we should return. They were among the best and most challenging in the nation.

For example, Indiana’s 2006 standards say third-graders should be able to use sentence and word context to find the meaning of unknown words. Common Core also contains this standard. Critics who say we should reject and then re-adopt it make no sense, calling into question their own ability to use logic.

Our new standards change this standard by adding more detail about using clues and text features to help students understand unknown words. This is taking a common sense standard from our 2006 standards, which was used by Common Core, and making it better for our new standards.

What is ironic about this example and many others is that we have done exactly what anti-Common Core activists have said we should do: re-adopt our 2006 standards. However, because such a standard can also be found in Common Core, they accuse us of “rebranding.”

We need to keep children, parents and common sense at the front of our reform efforts.

Other states need to be wary of trading one set of national standards, Common Core, for those recommended by other “national experts” who are busily trying to push their own agendas. I have long believed education is a state and local function, and that is why in Indiana we enlisted the help of more than 150 educators from around our state to help draft our new standards.

We considered the recommendations from national experts but, in the end, we adopted what we as a state believe are the best standards to help our children succeed in college, work and life – regardless of where they came from.

That is why in a number of instances our standards go beyond our previous standards and Common Core. In fact, we have entire math sections covering topics such as calculus and trigonometry that Common Core excludes altogether. We have standards where there were none before. It is difficult to rebrand a standard that did not exist.

I am proud of what we achieved in Indiana because I saw professional educators from around our state tune out the noise that people with varying agendas were trying to impose, roll up their sleeves and devote more than 6,000 hours to creating standards that are unique to Indiana and – I believe – a model for others to use.

Those who remain skeptical of what we did in Indiana should take a few minutes to visit our online standards, which list the standards one by one alongside Indiana’s previous standards and Common Core.

It is time that we had a debate about Common Core and our new standards using the facts, not vague generalities and self-contradictory logic.

Danny Shields, an elementary school math specialist in Monroe County, was appointed to the Indiana Education Roundtable by Gov. Mitch Daniels. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.