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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Why I voted NO on Indiana’s new education standards

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This past Monday, I voted against recommending that Indiana’s State Board of Education approve new college and career ready standards for grades K-12.

I’ve been a member of Indiana’s Education Roundtable since November 2009 when then Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett and then Gov. Mitch Daniels asked me to serve.

I didn’t discover until later, when The Associated Press revealed those infamous Tony Bennett emails, that Bennett’s staff thought it would be interesting to have, in their words, “a loudmouth” on the Roundtable.

My four and a half years serving Indiana and its people on the Roundtable brought me to an Indiana Government Center conference room Monday to vote on what type of standards and expectations Indiana expects of students.

State education standards are expectations of what students should learn during their grade’s school year in English/language arts and math. Several years ago heads of education in sovereign states along with their governors began an effort to try and create a “common” set of standards or expectations for all American students. That’s where this whole concept of Common Core comes from.

In just my second meeting on the Roundtable (March 2010), I sat through my first discussion about Common Core. There were pretty PowerPoint slides and the presenters made the idea of national standards, with Indiana flavor for our students, sound good.

Two meetings later (August 2010) the Roundtable discussed Indiana’s participation in Common Core and after an hour’s discussion, the Roundtable, including me, voted that Indiana adopt Common Core.

Two years later, I started to feel uncomfortable about that decision when in March 2012 the Roundtable was briefed about new standardized testing for Indiana’s students.

In the discussion the folks from the Indiana Department of Education said the new Common Core standards and the test would have more “rigor”; which is an educator-language code word for harder.

I asked if that meant these new tests would be harder than Indiana’s current ISTEP tests. Yes, was the answer.

I expressed in the meeting strong concern about Indiana changing testing regimes and systems without proper notification and education; not just of educators in our schools, but parents, grandparents of our students and the public.

Oddly, the minutes of that March 2012 Roundtable meeting says nothing about my publicly expressed reservations.

Since then, I became more skeptical about the breakneck pace of school reform in Indiana.

Since Bennett’s surprise defeat, under the leadership of new Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence, the Education Roundtable hasn’t met a lot. Just three meetings in 16 months, when the average had been three to four a year.

States that have aligned their standardized tests to Common Core have seen severe declines in student’s test scores. That didn’t mean those state’s students got dumber; but signified a lack of education, awareness and preparation for the new standards.

Now, I was prepared to keep an open mind on Indiana’s new College and Career Ready Standards, until I received my copy only seven days before I had to cast my public vote.

I was stunned that the standards contained an entire section on media literacy for every grade. I’m first puzzled why being media literate makes a student college or career ready.

To ensure students meet these standards, teachers would have to fully understand how the various forms of modern media operate.

Including college, I’m finishing my 46th year in the media business; and this week begins my 40th year in Indianapolis media. In an industry that had changed little most of that time, the pace of change in media the past 10 years is dizzying.

It is absurd and unrealistic to expect teachers to understand how media really works today, much less explain it to their students.

As I read through Indiana’s standards, I was distressed that they deemphasized literature – works of fiction. Not just the European-centric classics of Shakespeare, Melville, Austen, but American literature classics.

And if European-centric literature is deemphasized, you know African-American literature from greats like James Baldwin, August Wilson, James Weldon Johnson, Alice Walker, Richard Wright will be marginalized and eviscerated; not just for Black students, but all students.

And if these are supposed to be standards; the expectations education has for our students, I believe strongly they should be written, not in educator-ese, but in plain language all can understand.

Gov. Pence wanted these standards to be the best Indiana could develop.

The draft I was asked to approve didn’t meet those high standards.

So, I voted no.

Now, those on the conservative side of the aisle shouldn’t think I’ve morphed into Dr. Ben Carson. Some of the vitriol and criticism of Common Core standards is based on conservatives’ visceral dislike of anything President Barack Obama endorses or supports.

But I also appreciate the strong feelings of many Hoosiers – left and right – who deeply believe in local control of public schools.

My opposition to the draft standards is based upon my belief that they’ll not help Hoosier children, including African-American children, be truly college and career ready.

I abhor that the draft standards minimized the literature of Black and other cultures.

I’m deeply concerned the standards have the potential to demonize my industry and profession; and ignore or appreciate the role of Black and minority media outlets in all their forms in our state and society.

I appreciate the hard work folks put in to create these draft standards. But sometimes a student’s best work isn’t good enough and you have to return it to them with a grade of incomplete.

That’s what I did.

See ‘ya next week.

You can email comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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