The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act prohibits the federal government from intervening in school curriculum development. However, Indiana independently adopted the Common Core in 2010 along with 45 other states with the aim to create consistent national benchmarks for all students, regardless of their home state. “We want to ensure our students are held to the highest academic standard, and we believe the CCSS will position Indiana children well—nationally and internationally.” Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett said in 2010. “While these common standards will serve as guidelines for success, it will be up to our outstanding educators to decide how best to deliver instruction to make sure our students receive an academically rigorous and globally competitive education.
Once Indiana adopted Common Core, they essentially designed the curriculum to give teachers the freedom to create their own methods for instruction and to select the resources best tailored to their lessons. Most of the confusion—and the disapproval–regarding the federal government’s role in Common Core stemmed from President Obama’s Race to the Top Initiative. It gave $4 billion in federal grants to the top 19 states that demonstrated a commitment to education reform and innovation by using the Common Core standards developed at the federal level. Indiana was ranked 23rd on this list and did not receive any Initiative money, despite its adoption of the Common Core; perhaps this was due to the state’s perversion of the Common Core standard that was originally developed federally. While most of the states receiving grants under President Obama’s Initiative were liberal-leaning, the traditionally conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the Initiative. The intention of the Initiative’s selective funding was to act as a regulatory scheme to make sure funds were being given to states that would apply them properly.
Indiana is attempting to shift to a more state-specific standard and to promote an entirely different model for K through 12 education. The legislature passed a bill putting Common Core implementation on “pause” pending a proper review of the standards, the costs, and more. “I have long believed that education is a state and local function and we must always work to ensure that our students are being taught to the highest academic standards and that our curriculum is developed by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers,” said Governor Pence in May when he signed the legislation. The state has also reportedly stopped participating in the national testing regime—at least for now.
There is a strong disfavor among Republicans when it comes to the idea of the federal government getting involved in education; however, according to the Constitution the state does have this right. The Indiana legislature is expressing its preference that the state should take control of the education system instead of the federal government through incentives like the Initiative—especially regarding soft values allegedly associated with the Common Core. Indiana legislators have made it clear that they believe the tactic of rejecting nationalized education standards is the first step toward shifting students away from public education to private and charter schools via voucher programs. Governor Pence plans to turn Indiana’s school choice initiative into the most extensive in the nation. Since 2011, when the program was launched, Indiana students using vouchers has risen to nearly 5% of the total school population.
If successfully implemented, the new education system could have an impact beyond Indiana. Governor Pence is likely a 2016 presidential hopeful, and his sudden interest in education is a primary area of focus going into his campaign. In fact, Indiana State Senator Delph submitted legislation that would allow a lawmaker—or sitting governor, such as Pence—to seek re-election to state and federal office at the same time. “I think it’s good for the state of Indiana to have a sitting governor in the national conversation and because of that I think it’s in our interest to make the obstacles and roadblocks for Pence as minimal as possible,” Delph said.
Governor Pence lines up on the other side of the political-spectrum as President Obama or potential 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton. In order to win the far right voters in the primary, Pence will do his best to combat the so called “socialist” policies implemented under the Obama administration. Whether it be sharing medicare or sharing toys in kindergarten, we can be certain President Obama will face critics from GOP members attempting to dissolve his policies. It will be interesting to see how the American people side on these issues, and how the shift away from Common Core works and—more importantly—whether voters nationally will come vouch for Pence’s voucher plan in the 2016 primary elections.