COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina Tea Party groups -- warning of an overreaching federal government and massive privacy invasions -- are joining calls nationwide to derail education standards called Common Core.
"It doesn't matter if I like them. It doesn't matter if you like them or if they like them. We can't do anything about it," said Linda Ensor of Summerville, who organized several Tea Party groups to travel to Columbia Wednesday to urge the state Board of Education to rethink its 2010 adoption of Common Core.
South Carolina voluntarily adopted Common Core -- K-12 education standards in math, reading and language arts. The standards outline what students should know and know how to do at every grade level.
"When you remove the political argument, and you actually look at the standards themselves, they're described sometimes as fewer, deeper and clearer," said Allison Jacques, a University of South Carolina education department administrator who specializes in education standards and related tests.
The standards are high quality and more rigorous than past state expectations, she said. "The reverse would be to water down expectations or expect less from our students."
But resistance is cropping up across the nation, as some lawmakers push legislation to get rid of Common Core.
Proposals in the South Carolina House and Senate would stop the state from enacting Common Core. Neither bill has advanced.
Another bill, which will be up for debate when the House returns in January, would give the General Assembly final approval over any new education standards. That proposal is a reaction to complaints that Common Core's standards were adopted by two appointed -- not elected -- South Carolina boards, said state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville.
"People don't necessarily think that we should allow the federal government or some kind of private entity to define what our educational standards should be," he said.
Barring legislative action, South Carolina will complete its transition to Common Core during the 2014-15 school year.
What is Common Core?
Noticing the high number of students reaching college without basic skills, governors and state school superintendents across the nation decided to create Common Core.
The goal was to ensure students in every state were ready for college or careers, said Margaret Millar with the Council of Chief State School Officers, the lead organization in creating Common Core. The process included input from educators and public hearings and comment periods.
Common Core signals a shift away from requiring students to master a set of concepts toward thinking critically and in-depth, and supporting claims with evidence, said Jacques, with the USC education department. The standards are similar to what successful teachers do anyway, she added.
"Many excellent teachers have done this, and some would argue that this is just good teaching," Jacques said. "But that hasn't been the expectation in the past, and it hasn't been how we are training teachers."
Jacques said she understands anxiety about transitioning to Common Core -- making sure students are prepared for a new type of test they will take in 2014-15 and ensuring teachers have the proper training on the standards.
"One thing that concerns me -- it's very important that educators base their information on facts," she said, adding there's a "tendency to accept hearsay and to speculate" about the standards.
Critics of Common Core, including state schools Superintendent Mick Zais, say the standards were adopted hastily by a select few and are a "one-size-fits-all solution that won't serve students well."
In South Carolina, some object to the fact that two appointed, not elected, education boards adopted the standards.
The state Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee, the state's education accountability and policy research arm, adopted the standards. Both boards are appointed by lawmakers and the governor.
Other critics, including state Board of Education member Michael Brenan, say states adopted the standards under the gun of the federal government. President Barack Obama and his Education Department "made no secret that national standards are a priority of their education agenda," Brenan said in 2010, before voting against the standards.
However, the idea that Common Core is a federal mandate, passed down by the Obama Administration, is "misinformation," said Millar, with the state school chiefs.
Common Core grew out of ongoing talks between states about the need for common education standards, before Obama ran for president. But it also came on the heels of a federal education mandate -- President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind. That mandate required states to adopt standards. But states could -- and did -- adopt vastly different expectations for their students. The federal government then rated schools on their success in meeting their No Child Left Behind standards, using a system where missing one of several objectives meant automatic failure.
To establish Common Core, the school chiefs council worked with governors and education leaders across the nation to set standards. States then decided whether Common Core was the best fit for them. Forty-five states, including South Carolina, adopted the standards. Bt some states, including Virginia, did not "because there was no compulsion to do so," Millar said.
De facto federal mandate?
Still, characterizations of Common Core as a federal mandate are popular within South Carolina, extending to the halls of Congress.
For example, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, recently introduced legislation that would ban the federal government from requiring states to adopt education standards. Scott's legislation would not affect Common Core. But a news release from his office announcing the legislation led with a warning against "blanket federal mandates such as Common Core."
According to his press office, Scott thinks the federal government required states to adopt Common Core to qualify for waivers from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind federal school accountability law or the Obama administration's Race to the Top grants.
But that is not true, Common Core's authors maintain, and state and federal education officials agree.
States were not required to adopt Common Core as a requirement to qualify for No Child Left Behind Race waivers or Race to the Top grants, said Daren Briscoe, press secretary with the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, states that adopted any standard "promoting college and career readiness" had a competitive advantage in applying for Race to the Top money, and Common Core met that requirement, he said.
"We (the U.S. Department of Education) recognized the (Common Core) standards, as state-led, high-quality, college and career standards," Briscoe said.
Still, the federal Education Department certainly supported Common Core, said Jay Ragley, Zais' spokesman. The federal government also gave money to groups working to create tests that states could use to assess students based on the new standards. But the decision to adopt Common Core was not forced on the state or a requirement to receive other federal benefits, Ragley added.
No better proposals
At their meeting Wednesday, state Board of Education members got a little taste of the arguments being deployed nationwide against Common Core.
One speaker, Jeff Reuer of Goose Creek, warned Common Core would lead to desks that gather students' emotional reactions to lessons, retinal scanning and massive data-mining expeditions feeding a government supercomputer.
Millar said no such data-collection schemes exist in the Common Core.
South Carolina superintendent Zais says he opposes Common Core because it -- like other state-driven policies -- takes decisions about local schools away from local control.
South Carolina can withdraw from Common Core at "any time, for any reason," Zais reminded everyone at Wednesday's meeting, if better standards are available.
So far, however, no one has come forward with anything better.
Common Core in South Carolina
South Carolina is among 45 states that adopted Common Core. Five states -- Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia -- did not adopt the standards. South Carolina is one of more than a dozen states where there are legislative efforts to abandon the standards, according to Truth in American Education, an anti-Common Core group that tracks opposition efforts.
Pending South Carolina legislation: S. 300 and H. 3943 would void the state's adoption of Common Core standards and ban the state Department of Education from enacting them.
South Carolina legislators fighting Common Core: Reps. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville; Mike Burns, R-Greenville; Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg; Heather Crawford, R-Horry; William Crosby, R-Charleston; Craig Gagnon, R-Abbeville; Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown; Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville; Samuel Rivers, R-Berkeley; Mark Willis, R-Greenville; and Donna Wood, R-Spartanburg. Also Sens. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson; and Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley.
Read the standards: http://www.corestandards.org
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