Zais says he will kill Common Core in SC

jself@thestate.comJuly 11, 2014 

SC Superintendent of Education Mick Zais

SAM HOLLAND

  • Common Core in South Carolina

    Common Core education standards are still in effect through the 2014-15 school year, but the S.C. Department of Education is writing new standards for math and English for the 2015-16 school year.

    Paying for Common Core

    Common Core cost the state about $46 million and local districts at least $59 million. It will cost about $66 million to replace, according to a February estimate from the S.C. Department of Education, the most recent available. A look at how much the State Department of Education and school districts spent on Common Core, by the numbers:

    $59 million to $88 million — An estimate of how much money all S.C. school districts combined spent on Common Core, based on a partial survey of districts

— Lawmakers who wanted to see Common Core disappear from S.C. classrooms could not kill the education standards last spring. But lame-duck state schools Superintendent Mick Zais says he has a plan to make Common Core a thing of the past in South Carolina.

The Richland Republican, whose term ends when a new superintendent takes office in January, said he will instruct a group of educators revising the state’s K-12 education standards to ignore Common Core.

Zais’ move – to shape what S.C. school children should know and be able to do in different grades, long after Zais has left office – has the support of some Common Core opponents and at least one candidate to succeed him.

But some state leaders, including the chairmen of the two education boards that must approve any new standards, said throwing Common Core out of the process of writing new standards violates state law.

Other critics, including the executive director of the state’s Education Oversight Committee, say starting over is irresponsible.

Despite this year’s legislative furor, Common Core is South Carolina’s current education standard through the end of the 2014-15 school year. But new state standards are scheduled to take effect in the fall of 2015.

Zais vows those standards will be S.C.-written and very different from Common Core.

“We’re not going to repackage (Common Core). We’re not going to rebrand. We’re not going to tweak the Common Core ... and we’re not even going to have a copy of Common Core state standards in the room for the writing panels,” Zais told The State this week.

Instead, Zais says he will instruct the teams writing the math and English standards to start with South Carolina’s homegrown 2007 standards. That is the best way to have “new” standards by the fall of 2015, as required by the state law passed in May, Zais said.

The S.C. educators also will be asked to look at standards developed in other states, including Texas, that did not adopt Common Core.

Zais has support from some vehement opponents of Common Core, including lawmakers. One candidate vying to replace Zais also sees value in not starting the review with Common Core’s standards.

“To gain the confidence of the community and the Legislature, we probably need to keep Common Core out of the room as much as possible,” said Molly Spearman, the Republican candidate hoping to succeed Zais.

But critics say starting over — with the state’s previous standards, rated as inferior to Common Core by an education think tank — is irresponsible, especially because educators have a shorter time frame than usual to revise and win approval of the new standards.

Unfazed by the critics, Zais is moving forward — confident his interpretation of the new law and the General Assembly’s intent is accurate.

More than 350 educators have applied to help rewrite the standards — about 10 times the number that usually apply when reviews come up — showing a heightened interest in take part in the process, said Dino Teppara, a state Department of Education spokesman.

The English and math teams are scheduled to meet later this month or early in August to begin their work. Zais hopes to have a draft finalized in December and ready to send to the state Board of Education for the first of several approvals in January, when the next schools superintendent takes office.

The new standards must be approved and in place in time for the 2015-16 school year.

‘Shouldn’t be going backwards’

The flap over Zais’ approach stems from confusion over whether the legislatively ordered review of what S.C. students should know should begin with the current state standards, Common Core.

Some educators and education officials said they first learned of Zais’ plan to leave Common Core out of the standards revision when called by The State.

A June 5 state Education Department memo, detailing the review’s time line and approach, says the goal is to replace Common Core. It also says the writing panel will “review the current standards and recommend revisions,” suggesting the existing state standards — Common Core — would be the starting place for the review.

Zais says the new law directs him to write new standards. He says that goal not will be achieved by starting with Common Core and reviewing its standards — though the end product, incidentally, may have similar standards.

Passed in May, the new law prompting the standards revision was a reaction to anger that peaked this year over the state’s 2010 adoption of Common Core.

‘Just want high, deep standards’

Two of the candidates looking to succeed Zais as state schools superintendent also say the panels writing new state standards should have access to Common Core.

Democrat Tom Thompson of Columbia and the American Party’s Ed Murray of West Columbia said if they were directing the panels, they would allow them to look at Common Core in addition to other standards.

Principals and teachers are excited about some of the teaching methods that come from using the Common Core, Thompson said, adding, “That’s a mistake ... to factor out those things and ask the panel not to consider things that teachers are excited about.”

Murray said as a teacher he saw a need for more rigorous standards, and Common Core fits that need, helping students apply the knowledge that they learn.

But GOP candidate Spearman, who has entrenched ties in the state’s education policy community, reacted differently to the news that the revision would not start with Common Core.

“It’s pretty clear in the legislation that the intent of the General Assembly was to continue with the current standards” and revise, as necessary, from that starting point, Spearman said.

‘In the eye of the beholder’

Zais says he is taking his cues from the General Assembly, which, he says, showed that it wanted the state to move away from Common Core by requiring “new” standards be developed.

The new law says the General Assembly must approve any new standards not written by S.C. educators – a requirement aimed at preventing the adoption of another set of out-of-state standards without lawmakers’ input.

“The legislative intent is to replace Common Core with state standards,” said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, chairman of a Senate education subcommittee. “But the first place you look at intent is what's spelled out in the law.

“If we intended to go back to the (earlier) standards, we would have put that” in the law, he said.

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