Common Core critics come to Columbia

jself@thestate.comSeptember 28, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    What: The “Exposing Common Core” conference with S.C. lawmakers and national experts on Common Core

    Where: Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln St.

    When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    Tickets: $35, at the door, includes lunch

National voices in the fight against Common Core education standards will sound off in Columbia Saturday at an event called “Exposing Common Core.”

U.S. Sen Tim Scott, a North Charleston Republican, is among the scheduled speakers.

“A one-size-fits all (approach to education) has not worked, and I believe, ultimately, can’t work,” Scott said of the Common Core standards in an interview with The State on Thursday.

“The genesis of national standards started with the states figuring out a plan and talking with other states,” Scott said.

But he fears states will lose the flexibility to develop their own approaches to schools if education decisions start “coming from Washington and no longer from the states.”

Scott and several other critics of Common Core will speak at the event, organized by S.C. Parents Involved in Education, a nonprofit run by Republican activist Sheri Few of Lugoff.

Critics argue the standards are inferior to what states could develop on their own and could lead to a “dumbing down” of what students are expected to know.

Supporters disagree, saying Common Core standards provide, for the first time, a “core of standards” that define what the nation’s youth should know and be able to do at each grade level, said Barbara Nielsen, South Carolina’s Republican state school superintendent from 1990-’98.

Before South Carolina adopted Common Core, a panel of 41 state educators found that Common Core met or exceeded the rigor of the state’s standards at the time, said Melanie Barton, director of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee, the state’s education oversight and research arm.

The standards are the “minimum standard,” Barton added. “You can definitely go above.”

Common Core opponents criticize the way the standards were created, arguing they were pushed on states by the U.S. Department of Education.

The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers and, for that reason, are lauded by supporters as state-driven standards. The state school chiefs and governors said they recognized a need to prepare students for careers and college, and worked together to create Common Core, which a majority of states voluntarily adopted.

Critics say the organizations that authored Common Core left state legislatures and parents out of the loop.

The organizations were “trade associations” that “usurped input of parents” when they wrote the standards, said S.C.-native Jane Robbins, an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project, and a graduate of Clemson University and Harvard Law School.

Scheduled to speak at the event, Robbins said states also adopted the standards in order to qualify for federal grant money.

Adopting standards deemed effective in preparing students for careers and college gave states an advantage in applying for federal grant money, a U.S. Education Department spokesman told The State in June. Common Core was an example of a high-quality standard, he added.

The S.C. Board of Education and Education Oversight Committee adopted the Common Core standards. Both have boards whose members are appointed by the governor and legislators.

The fight to reverse that decision continues as many S.C. schools transition to using the standards.

In a voluntary survey that 42, or half, of the state’s school districts responded to, 31 reported using Common Core in all grade levels by this school year, the Oversight Committee reported.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, also scheduled to speak at Saturday’s event, is one of several state legislators who support legislation that would dismantle the standards.

Other scheduled speakers include:

•  Ze’ev Wurman, a former senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. In 2010, Wurman was on the California commission that reviewed the adoption of Common Core in that state.

•  Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas professor in the department of education reform. Stotsky developed K-12 education standards while working as a senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education and was a member of the Common Core standards validation committee.

•  Joy Pullman, a research fellow with the Heartland Institute and managing editor of School Reform News. Pullman also is the 2013 recipient of a Robert Novak journalism fellowship for in-depth reporting on Common Core, according to her Heartland Institute biography.

• Whitney Neal, grass-roots director for FreedomWorks, a limited-government advocacy group, and a former eighth-grade U.S. history teacher.

Reach Self at (803)771-8658

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