May 11, 2014

Local educators disappointed with Common Core changes

Last week’s vote in the Senate to switch from Common Core State Standards to a new set of yet-to-be-written state standards has left local educators concerned and impatient about what the next steps may be.

Once again, South Carolina teachers and administrators are waiting.

Because of recent legislation, teachers don’t know what standardized tests their students will take next year. They also don’t know what curriculum standards will be in place two years from now.

The state senate recently voted 42-0 to pull South Carolina out of the SmarterBalanced testing consortium and to find a new standardized test by next year. The Senate also voted to replace the national Common Core State Standards with a set of state standards for English and language arts and math by the 2015-2016 school year.

School administrators across York County said this level of change at the state level isn’t anything new. They said teachers will do what they need to do to educate students, no matter the test or standard.

“I don’t think this is an educational discussion,” said Harriet Jaworowski, associate superintendent of instruction in the Rock Hill School District. “I think this is a political discussion.”

South Carolina is one of more than a dozen states that are taking steps to drop Common Core, a set of standards developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

Opponents of Common Core argue the standards constitute a federal takeover of education and that the standards themselves are un-American, developmentally inappropriate and allow the government to collect large amounts of data on individual students. Many educators dispute these claims.

“With the public outcry, there’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, with having the state look at (the standards) again,” said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R- Rock Hill.

When South Carolina develops its own standards, essentially reverting back to how the education system operated in the decade or so before Common Core, Hayes said some of the Common Core standards may make it into the new standards, if they’re good. Others will go away, he said.

School districts across the state, including those in Clover, Fort Mill and Rock Hill, have spent the last three years implementing Common Core standards, which may be a waste of resources and time, said Marty McGinn, assistant superintendent of curriculum and human resources in the Fort Mill School District.

“It’s disappointing because it’s going to take a lot of time and energy we could have devoted to improving the implementation (of Common Core),” McGinn said.

“Any inconvenience this may cause the district is unfortunate,” Hayes said. “They have acted in good faith and done exactly what they were asked to do.”

Multiple state agencies will work to develop the new state standards in the upcoming year, including state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais’ successor. But McGinn and Jaworowski said they hoped classroom teachers, the people on the “front lines” of education every day, will be consulted.

Rock Hill school board chairman Jim Vining said local input doesn’t seem to have been a priority to the state as the debate over Common Core took place in Columbia.

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

In the Clover school district, associate superintendent Sheila Quinn said until they’re told otherwise, they will continue to teach the Common Core standards because they believe the standards are capable of making students ready for college or careers. If moderate changes to the standards are needed to stop fighting over the title “Common Core” and to focus on the real issues at hand, Quinn said her district will welcome the new state standards.

“If this is going to help us move forward in a positive way, bring it on,” she said.

The Senate bill is now back in the House, which may make changes. But Hayes said he’s confident a final version will be ready for Gov. Nikki Haley to sign soon. In January, Haley called on the state to drop Common Core.

“When all is said and done, we want to come up with the best possible standards for the state of South Carolina,” Hayes said.

Only time will tell what those “best possible standards” may look like. Until then, educators say schools will open their doors every day and students will learn. And districts will wait for their new set of instructions.

“I want to say, ‘Look, we’re going to have school every day and teach for a high level,’” Jaworowski said. “When you guys figure it out, you let us know.”

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