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News K-12 standards approved despite opposition 

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The State Board of Education approved math and language arts standards on Monday that will guide curriculum in K-12 schools starting this fall.

The bipartisan board voted 10-1 - with conservative Andrea Neal the lone no vote - after a string of opponents asked the board to postpone action so the standards could be rewritten. They argued the guides are too close to Common Core, a controversial set of standards they will replace and that have been adopted in most states across the nation.

"Please, please step back," said Mary Jane Curtis, a grandmother from Carmel, who said her son has been bringing home Common Core instructional materials that are confusing. "Don't feel rushed. This is a big mistake."

Cheryl Ferguson, a pediatrician from Fishers, said the standards are too prescriptive about what students must learn at each level, without allowing for normal development differences among children. "You can't expect all kindergarteners to know how to read at the end of kindergarten," which she said is included in the new standards.

And she said the long list of required learning for the youngest students "crowds out the need for children to learn to play."

But a majority of board members and the education staff who helped guide development of the standards say they are rigorous and will provide local districts across the state with the information they need to make good decisions about curriculum and materials.

The standards are a combination of Common Core, the state's previous standards and work from other states and subject matter experts. They represent the skills or knowledge a student should know - without assigning a method for teaching that skill.

Board member Brad Oliver said he tried to look past the politics and controversies of Common Core and focus on whether the standards "reflect the most critical skills our children need" to succeed.

"It seems that fear sometimes can outpace fact. And I've heard a lot of fear and I understand that," he said. "One of the fears I have is that politics has been interjected into this discussion to the point that it's shaded our ability to actually think clearly about what's in front of us."

The State Board of Education in 2010 approved Common Core as the state's standards and began phasing in the change. So did 40-some other states. But after President Barack Obama's administration endorsed the standards and teachers and parents began seeing curriculum materials meant to dovetail with them, some conservatives started expressing concern.

That led the General Assembly to vote last year to pause the implementation of Common Core and this year's vote to ban it. Meanwhile, state education officials launched a process for creating what Republican Gov. Mike Pence has repeatedly called Hoosier standards created by Hoosiers.

But on Monday, some critics said the standards are just cut-and-paste versions of Common Core. And others accused education officials of relying too much on expertise from outside the state.

Neal rattled off a list of math experts that have criticized the standards. "It is malpractice to adopt math standards that make no sense to mathematicians," she said.

And she complained that the language arts standards don't detail the specific literature and historical documents that students should be required to study and lump together different forms of writing, including poetry, fiction, drama, nonfiction and other forms.

"In a standards document written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers, you would expect to see names of revered Hoosier authors," she said. "Yet there's no mention of James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Jean Stratton Porter or Kurt Vonnegut."

Instead, she said the standards focus too much on skills and technology instead of knowledge.

But board member David Freitas - after asking education staff a series of questions about the standards - said they set "high expectations of what Hoosier students need to know and be able to do in each grade."

"They are built on a solid foundation of research-based best practices," he said. "They thwart unnecessary and unwanted intrusion in our schools by the federal government. And they rightly cede curriculum authority to local school leaders and communities in selecting their own instructional materials."

The Department of Education is now preparing a list of recommended instructional materials teachers can use to implement the new standards. But at Freitas' urging, the board voted to ensure that the list come back before the board for approval before they can be distributed to schools.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of The Statehouse File, a news service powered by Franklin College students and faculty.
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