Local and State News

Common Core Isn’t Dead, and Zais Can’t Kill It

By Al Dozier
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Common Core is on a rough road in South Carolina.

The nationwide program, designed to make educational standards consistent across the states, has already made its way into the schools of South Carolina, where teachers are being prepped and textbooks circulated for the 2014-15 school year.

The state has spent millions on the program.

But many see it as a federal mandate that changes the way classes are taught in South Carolina to a practice endorsed by bureaucrats. Gov. Nikki Haley has expressed opposition to it, and some state lawmakers sought to kill the standards.

It was even widely reported that the South Carolina Legislature had abolished Common Core when they passed a bill earlier this year to overhaul state standards for the 2015-16 school year.

But that’s not actually what happened.

Lawmakers did approve a “review” of current standards that will allow inclusion of new standards.

South Carolina’s top elected education official, Superintendent Mick Zais, opposes Common Core, and attempted to remove the national standards from consideration in the state standards update.

But Zais was blocked from removing Common Core from that review after Senate Education Committee Chairman John Courson (R-Richland) sought a legal opinion. Senate Attorney Michael Hitchock determined that the law called for a standards “review,” not the creation of a new law.

Zais is still proceeding with a rewrite of the standards, but has agreed that Common Core will be a part of the review process — in other words, those reviewing the standards won’t just be starting from square one, but can take Common Core into account. (Zais was able, in April, to withdraw the state from a national consortium that will test Common Core standards.)

The problem is Zais is not consulting with the two other education agencies that ultimately have to approve the standards: the S.C. Board of Education and the S.C. Education Oversight Committee, according to State Education Board Chairman Barry Bolen.

Bolen says he found it frustrating that the state department decided to start revising the standards without even consulting with the two panels that are required to approve any changes.

Bolen also said he was shocked to read on the state department’s website a comment from Zais that he planned to kill Common Core.

“How can he say that?” Bolen asks. “It’s critical that the State Department and the EOC agree.”

Beth Branham, a member of the Lexington District 2 Board who now serves as president of the S.C. School Boards Association, said there is too much at stake to trash Common Core.

“We’ve spent tons of money and tons of time,” she says. “We can’t throw that out.”

Branham said in a recently published guest editorial that the move to ban Common Core introduces conflict and turmoil among statewide leaders who should be working cohesively to improve our schools.

“It leaves local school districts holding the bag, with no way to anticipate what the state will require,” she says. “Most crucially, it shoves real and significant progress under the bus for no substantive purpose, undermining the state’s ability to move our schools and students forward.”

But what proponents of Common Core are missing is a grassroots revolt by thousands of people who believe the standards are flawed, according to Sheri Few of Lugoff, who ran for state superintendent as an opponent of Common Core. She finished third in the Republican primary, but received more than 50,000 votes.

She said experts across the country have criticized the standards. One of the findings has concluded that Common Core instruction could cause “psychological problems” to K-3 students, Few says.

“Ultimately, we will see it repealed,” she predicts.

That would be a mistake, according to Bernadette Hampton, president of the South Carolina Education Association. She said her statewide network of educators support raising the standards of education, and that’s what Common Core does.

Hampton says the input she receives from teachers and the education community is not opposition, but support.

Common Core was not “mandated by Washington” but developed by educators throughout the nation in collaboration with state governors, she says.

She also believes that the standards should be developed in partnership with the new superintendent of education, not a superintendent who will be stepping down in December.

Courson agrees. He says he will seek to have the newly elected superintendent involved in the rewriting of the standards.

Voters will elect the new superintendent in November. Both of the candidates, Democrat Tom Thompson and Republican Molly Spearman, have voiced support for Common Core.

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