Education
3:49 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Common Core Turns Business Leaders Against Oklahoma GOP

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 5:47 pm

Mike Neal gets annoyed when he talks about politicians in his state. Just three years ago, when the Common Core State Standards for education were implemented, no one had a problem with them, says Neal, president of the Tulsa, Okla., Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"It's been a really frustrating situation to the business community in Oklahoma in that we've all been on the same page, from the governor, the House, the Senate, school board members," Neal says. "They've all been behind this."

Now, things are different.

"You've got a lot of people just running scared," Neal says.

That's because they're running for re-election, he explains. This spring, Republicans and Democrats have been bombarded by opponents of the standards and told, "if you support Common Core, we're going to beat you, and we'll beat you over this one single issue."

The threat is real. What's not real, Neal says, are the arguments being used to threaten legislators — namely, that it's a federal scheme to tell teachers what to teach, that private groups will mine and profit from test results, and that Common Core will take local control of schools away from Oklahomans. Neal says that's not true.

"Despite what some fringe groups may say, we don't think it takes [local control] away at all," he says.

Jenni White is founder of ROPE, which stands for Restore Oklahoma Public Education, a fervent opponent of the standards.

"This is about people who are concerned about the direction of education in Oklahoma and across the nation today," White says.

White is also a lifetime Republican, a mother of five and a former science teacher. She says ROPE has not threatened elected officials, but it has shown them why the adoption of the new standards was a mistake.

"You're talking about a set of standards that was created completely outside of the state, in which taxpayers had no voice," White says. "So parents have risen up and said, 'Wait a minute. We need to feel like we have some control over the education of our children.' And that has frustrated the Chamber of Commerce, who, really, isn't for parents. They're for businesses."

That argument persuaded Oklahoma state Rep. Jason Nelson to co-author a repeal of Common Core.

"What the bill does is to say that the state cannot cede its discretion or control over our standards or assessments," Nelson says.

But Mike Neal of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce says a repeal would be a costly step backward.

"We, in this state right now, waste outrageous amounts of money on remediation for students that come out of high school with good grades but they're not ready for higher education," Neal says. "They're not ready to be hired by businesses. ... They're not going to be able to compete."

Neal worries that later this month Oklahoma is likely to become the second state, along with Indiana, to dump the core standards. What happens after that?

"I think that's an excellent question, and it's something that we would like to know the answer to as well," White says.

She says that assuming lawmakers vote to drop the standards, schools will return to the old state standards, which even she concedes weren't great. But still: "We would really prefer to go back to those while we're preparing a really great set of standards," White says.

That, business leaders say, will take schools back to square one, with no guarantees that Oklahoma will end up with standards as good as Common Core.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block at member station KERA in Dallas. An unlikely fight is playing out next door in Oklahoma between two sides that are used to being on the same team. It involves the common core education standards in English and math. Conservatives are fighting to repeal them, business leaders are fighting to save them.

In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is so worried about efforts to repeal the common core in Oklahoma and elsewhere that it launched a new ad campaign. It's defending the core with help from A-list conservatives including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

JEB BUSH: If we aspire to greatness as a nation, we have to have standards that are benchmarked to the best in the world. common core is the best chance...

BLOCK: NPR's Claudio Sanchez was recently in Tulsa and has this report.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Mike Neal gets really annoyed when he talks about politicians in his state. He's president of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce and he says just three years ago when the common core Standards were implemented, no one had a problem with them.

MIKE NEAL: It's been a really frustrating situation to the business community in Oklahoma. And for the most part we've all been on the same page from the governor, the House, the Senate, school board members, they've all been behind this.

SANCHEZ: But now...

NEAL: You've got a lot of people just running scared.

SANCHEZ: That's because they're running for reelection, says Neal. This spring Republicans and Democrats have been bombarded by opponents of the Core and told...

NEAL: If you support common core we're going to beat you. And we'll beat you over this one single issue.

SANCHEZ: The threat is real. What's not real, says Neal, are the arguments being used to threaten legislators, namely that it's a federal scheme to tell teachers what to teach, that private groups will mine and profit from test results. And that the common core will take local control of schools away from Oklahomans. Not true, says Neal.

NEAL: Despite what some fringe groups may say, we don't think it takes it away at all.

JENNY WHITE: We're not a fringe group.

SANCHEZ: That's Jenny White, founder of ROPE, Restore Oklahoma Public Education, a fervent opponent of the core.

WHITE: This is about people who are concerned about the direction of education in Oklahoma and across the nation today.

SANCHEZ: White is also a lifetime Republican, mother of five and a former science teacher. She says ROPE has not threatened elected officials but it has shown them why the adoption of the new standards was a mistake.

WHITE: You're talking about a set of standards that was created completely outside of the state in which taxpayers had no voice. And so parents have risen up and said, you know, wait a minute. We need to feel like we have some control over the education of our children. And that has frustrated the Chamber of Commerce who really isn't for parents. They're for businesses.

SANCHEZ: That argument persuaded Oklahoma State Representative Jason Nelson to co-author a repeal of the common core.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE JASON NELSON: What the bill does is to say that the state cannot feed its discretion or control over our standards or assessments.

SANCHEZ: But Mike Neal of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce says a repeal would be a costly step backwards.

NEAL: We, in the state right now, waste outrageous amounts of money on remediation for students to come out of high school with good grades. But they're not ready for higher education. They're not ready to be hired by a business. If we don't do something different to get our young people ready, they're not going to be able to compete.

SANCHEZ: Neal worries that later this month Oklahoma is likely to become the second state, along with Indiana, to dump the core standards. What happens after that?

WHITE: I think that's an excellent question and it's something that we would like to know the answer to as well.

SANCHEZ: Jenny White says, assuming the lawmakers vote to drop the standards, schools will return to the old state standards, which even she concedes weren't great. Still...

WHITE: We would really prefer to go back to those while we're preparing a really great set of standards.

SANCHEZ: And that, business leaders say, will take schools back to square one with no guarantees that Oklahoma will end up with standards as good as the common core. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related Program