Indiana should slow down its implementation of a nationalized set of academic standards, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said recently.
She called for an in-depth study of the "Common Core" standards 46 states are now putting in place – and that conservative state lawmakers are calling a step back from what Indiana had previously.
"I'm not really wanting to void Common Core so much as I'm wanting to review them," she said. "It's a good time to pause. That's what I'm wanting to do because we've started to implement it and so many concerns are coming up."
Her comments came as the Indiana Senate's Education Committee heard more than five hours of testimony – but did not yet vote – on those Common Core state standards.
Opponents called them a federal takeover of Indiana's schools and supporters said standards that are similar across state lines are necessary in a global economy.
The debate was over Senate Bill 193, which would reverse the state education board's decision to use Common Core standards and move the state back to its old standards.
The bill's author, Sen. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis), said the state didn't follow its typical procedure when Common Core was implemented.
"It was a far cry and it deviated greatly from that process in the past," he said. "There was very little, if any, local input by any interested parties."
The Common Core standards' development was a state-led effort, but President Barack Obama embraced them when he tied federal Race to the Top stimulus funding to them by insisting states receiving the money adopt them.
Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), said the standards were drafted by the National Governors Association, using its staff, and that individual governors had little to do with the nuts and bolts of its development.
"We didn't really help design any of this curriculum," she said.
Conservative activists such as Advance America head Eric Miller said Common Core standards open the door to federal government intrusion.
"In the future, could the federal government, in an attempt to gain even more control over education in Indiana, say that to receive federal money all students in Indiana, including private and Christian and home-schooled students, must take a national test based on national standards? This possibility alone is enough reason to adopt Senate Bill 193," he said.
"There's real concern that Indiana is heading down a path of even more federal involvement in our schools because of Common Core," said Chase Downham, the Indiana state director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
Proponents said those arguments were influenced by politics and ignored Indiana's leading role in adopting Common Core. "Those standards were developed by a consortium of states. Indiana was certainly involved," said Derek Redelman, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's vice president of education and workforce development policy.
Jim Applegate, the Lumina Foundation's vice president for program development, said Common Core is "not some kind of newfangled reform" and aims to teach students the practical skills they'll need in the workforce.
"What it takes to be competent in math in the 21st Century is about the same in Ohio as it is in Indiana," he said. "This should not be a tough decision. The verdict is in, and the Common Core train has left the station."
Lawmakers, he said, must decide "whether to keep Indiana's teachers and children on that train, where they will be engaged…or whether you will drag them off that train and have them standing by the tracks, watching, while the rest of the country speeds forward, attuned to a kind of education that meets global demands."
The Senate Education and Career Development Committee could vote on the bill as soon as next week.