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Politics behind decision to replace Common Core

May 18, 2014 

  • In summary

    Politics are motivating state lawmakers to get rid of Common Core standards even when many school districts want to keep them.

The state Legislature is on the verge of ditching the national educational standards of Common Core and replacing them with standards developed inside the state. But the motivation for doing so appears to have more to do with politics than the quality of the education the state offers its children.

The state Senate voted May 1 to replace Common Core with state-developed standards beginning with the 2015-16 school year. The bill also would scrap the testing regimen South Carolina has worked with other states to devise and replace it with a new test by next year.

The state House of Representatives already has passed a similar bill.

Opponents of Common Core argue that the standards represent a federal takeover of education. This ignores the fact that grass-roots educators and educational organizations around the nation were involved in drawing up the standards.

In South Carolina, the standards were adopted in 2010 by two state boards, and school districts in York, Chester and Lancaster counties began implementing the standards soon after that. Many teachers, administrators and school board members throughout the three counties have praised the standards as helping students develop better reasoning skills and to perform at a higher level.

But, as noted, improving the quality of education in the state is not the issue.

Harriet Jaworowski, associate superintendent of instruction in the Rock Hill school district recently stated: “I don’t think this is an educational discussion. I think this is a political discussion.”

Opponents of Common Core complain that the states are ceding control of education to the national government. They say that not enough teachers, parents and other members of states’ educational communities were involved in creating the Common Core standards.

Ironically, though, as Rock Hill school board chairman Jim Vining recently noted, state lawmakers have not talked with local school officials at all before voting to dismantle Common Core.

“Our local legislators have been making decisions on Common Core and have not once, to my knowledge, consulted anyone in education in York County,” said Vining.

School districts have invested considerable time, money and effort into implementing Common Core math and reading standards in classrooms across the state for the past three years. The standards would have been fully integrated during the next school year.

The legislation also abandons tests South Carolina has helped create with 21 other states. If the legislation becomes law, South Carolina will have to come up with replacement tests by next year or risk losing its federal waiver from having to comply with rigid provisions of the No Child Left Behind Law.

In other words, state lawmakers want to put the state on a tight deadline to develop and adopt new standards and testing regimens largely because the Common Core standards and tests are associated with the federal government. But the fundamental question is: What’s wrong with setting uniform national standards for education?

South Carolina has had an educational system with near-total local autonomy regarding curriculum for decades, and that has not produced an educational system that many states would envy. If state lawmakers want to scrap Common Core, thoughtful parents should be asking them what they plan to replace it with.

Common Core isn’t a rigid blueprint that gives local educators no flexibility, as its opponents suggest. Its a touchstone, a common criteria that helps educators and parents determine if students are gaining the skills to compete not only with other American students but also students from around the world.

Common Core is not simply a set of standards but also of shared classroom techniques and lessons for use by teachers. Many local schools have been bringing those skills and standards into the classroom for more than three years now, and the system is working.

It is not a perfect system. It no doubt can be tweaked and improved.

But to throw out Common Core just because it is associated with the federal government? That isn’t about education; it’s all about politics.

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