Possible Common Core compromise gets mixed reviews

vgrooms@thesunnews.comMarch 3, 2014 

A Socastee High School teacher, speaks out against Common Core during a rally at the State House.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

A state Senate compromise on a bill to repeal the Common Core State Standards in South Carolina is getting mixed reviews from some critics in Horry County, while school district officials defend the standards, which already are being used in the schools.

A Senate education subcommittee on Wednesday forwarded a proposal that would keep the standards in place and review them no later than 2018. It also stipulates that standards coming from outside the state be approved by the General Assembly.

Common Core standards are a set of expectations for what students will need to know in English language arts and mathematics to prepare them for college and careers. The standards were adopted by two state education boards in 2010.

Districts have been transitioning to the standards since 2011. Common Core is expected to be fully implemented in the schools beginning in the fall.

The standards were created by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers with input from educators. Critics say those are merely trade groups, and that states did not have a say and were lured to adoption by federal funding opportunities.

Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, Wednesday questioned the criticism he has heard about the standards, which, he said, are supported by chambers of commerce and Horry County Schools.

“I’m slightly torn here with the perception that there’s this great conspiracy that South Carolina is being taken advantage of and being led by [President Barack] Obama into some system that is against our principles here in South Carolina, and the hook is the money,” he said.

S.C. Parents Involved in Education has actively opposed Common Core, and when asked if there is a good side to the proposed compromise, Camille Noonan with the group’s Pee Dee chapter said, “No,” and provided the group’s response, that the amendments are not a compromise but a sellout.

Solutions offered by the group include having a clean repeal bill and reverting to prior standards, or adopting other standards, such as Massachusetts’ ELA standards, which are among the most rigorous in the country.

Bobby Chandler, a social studies teacher at Socastee High School, is among those who oppose Common Core but he said his basic concern is that a lot of decisions have been made without the input of the people of South Carolina. He said he teaches about checks and balances, and the way the standards were adopted is a violation of the principles that are taught in U.S. history and government.

“I’m not opposed to looking at better ideas coming from somewhere else, even if we were to adopt other standards, like the Massachusetts standards, which are some of the best in the country,” Chandler said. “I would have no problem with that because it would be our decision. What I am opposed to is we haven’t had a voice in this as a people.”

Chandler said the higher-order thinking associated with Common Core is good, but he has concerns about abstract math concepts being taught at the elementary school level, and that more emphasis is being placed on college and career readiness than fostering good citizenship.

While Chandler said he would’ve liked to have seen a clean repeal of the standards, he does see some good things in the compromise proposal, such as the General Assembly’s approval on outside standards and that it would limit the amount of student data that the state shares.

“I’m glad we at least have a compromise bill,” he said. “That’s better than no bill. It gives more people time to have more knowledge, and maybe we can get some changes.”

District officials are happy with the compromise proposal and that it allows them to continue the work they’ve been doing since the state adopted the standards. HCS teachers began intensive training two years ago, and more than 300 teachers worked in teams last summer to create pacing guides and other documents that, along with professional development, are helping teachers and principals with the transition.

Cindy Ambrose, chief academic officer for Horry County Schools, said there is a difference between standards and curriculum, and that while the standards are more rigorous, the district has been using rigorous curricula, such as Everyday Math, one of the most rigorous math curricula, for the last 16 years.

“The standards are nothing but targets, and it’s really not a lot different than what we’re doing now,” Ambrose said. “Curriculum is a local decision. We use teacher leaders to determine our resources and textbooks. … When people produce things like a worksheet and say [students] won’t be able to read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ that’s erroneous.”

Ambrose said the issue is really about how the standards are assessed, and the district has been preparing for the Smarter Balanced assessment, which the amendment would prohibit, but also has been developing its own performance tasks. She said more can be added to the standards if necessary, but nothing is being lost, and educators don’t want to be in a political debate.

“They’ve politicized this but there’s nothing political about it,” Ambrose said. “Really, educators just want to teach. We went into this profession to ensure students are ready to be successful for the future they will inherit. … We do want our students to have the skills and knowledge they will need in a global economy.”

The State contributed to this report.

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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