Our view

Zais’ move to kill Common Core is misguided

July 16, 2014 

  • In summary

    Purging Common Core from state education standards would be both irresponsible and wasteful.

State schools Superintendent Mick Zais’ high-handed directive to purge anything related to Common Core from the state’s K-12 education standards could put South Carolina students at a disadvantage for years to come.

Zais, a lame-duck whose term ends when a new superintendent takes office in January, announced last week that he will order educators revising the education standards to ignore Common Core, the national standards that outline what students should know and be able to do at every grade level. The move could shape education in South Carolina long after Zais has left office.

“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 declared.

Instead, Zais said he would instruct the teams writing the math and English standards to start with the standards South Carolina adopted in 2007. But there is serious question as to whether this “back to the future” approach will jibe with the new law passed by the Legislature last session.

While the purpose of the law was to ensure legislative oversight of the process, the intent was not to simply recycle the earlier standards.

“If we intended to go back to the (earlier) standards, we would have put that” in the law, said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, chairman of the Senate education subcommittee.

South Carolina, along with 42 other states, voluntarily agreed to adopt the Common Core standards in 2010. Schools across the state have been busy incorporating the standards so that they could officially take effect in the fall of 2015.

Rescinding Common Core now would undo years of work by administrators and classroom teachers to develop curricula to meet the new standards. Altogether, the state has spent about $46 million and all S.C. school districts combined have spent $59 million to $88 million implementing Common Core.

Replacing Common Core would cost another $66 million. And if teams writing the state standards go along with Zais’ plan to scrap Common Core altogether, there is no assurance that schools will be able to adopt the new standards by the 2015-16 school year.

That is one reason the chairmen of the two education boards that must approve any new standards and the executive director of the state’s Education Oversight have concluded that throwing Common Core our of the process of writing new standards violates state law. Even if doing so would fall within the law, it would be wasteful and irresponsible.

We continue to believe that the motivation behind the campaign to replace Common Core is largely political. Critics want to put the state on a tight deadline to develop and adopt new standards and testing regimens simply because Common Core is associated with the federal government.

But the fundamental question is: What’s wrong with setting uniform national standards for education?

Standards provide a template for what students should know and be able to accomplish at each grade level. They are entirely different from curriculum, which is what happens in the classroom to help students attain the standards – and which would continue to vary in every classroom despite the adoption of Common Core.

U.S. students need to be able to compete in the global marketplace. To do so, they need to be able to meet or exceed the same educational standards as students in other nations.

Setting national standards gives educators a better way to measure their progress as well as share information with their peers in other states so that all can benefit from innovations and techniques that work. Common Core might not be perfect, but throwing it out is not about better education; it’s all about politics.

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