Former Oklahoma governor: Lack of rigor in classroom a recipe for problems

Last week, the national media highlighted the U.S. Department of Education’s denial of Oklahoma’s request for a one-year waiver from the strictures of the No Child Left Behind Act. Earlier in the year, the Legislature repealed Common Core State Standards. They were developed by state leaders to replace the No Child Left Behind mandates, which were viewed as an unacceptable intrusion on state sovereignty.

We would educate ourselves better than the feds could educate us. At least, that was the promise.

The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post trumpeted the fact that, unlike Indiana (which repealed Common Core but replaced it with a rigorous college- and career-ready curriculum), Oklahoma’s action returned the state to the soft and unsatisfactory standards Common Core was intended to replace. Oklahoma was the focus. Oklahoma’s education system was the laser target of the articles.

I was incredulous. What a way to sell yourself to a world business community that seeks out excellence in education, particularly in science, English and math! With a third of our best college-bound students needing remediation in science and math, and with a third of our urban third-graders not grade proficient in reading and math, Oklahoma’s coverage nationally was embarrassing. We weren’t educating our kids.

It was all so avoidable. As governor, and with a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, we required that each child take three years of math, four years of science, four years of English and four years of social sciences. We also passed charter and public school choice. The intention was to drag our students into the rigorous and ferocious talent competition of the 21st century.

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