Elections 2014: ETV debates

Common Core, evolution vs. creationism divide GOP candidates for S.C. education superintendent

jself@thestate.comMay 27, 2014 

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  • The debate

    Searching for a real Republican: “ . . . Let’s target our efforts to make sure that we don’t, as Republicans, inadvertently send up a nomination that doesn’t actually hold true to conservative principles. Sitting here and misrepresenting the reality of the actions that I’ve taken or the actions that Gen. Zais has taken is not going to put us in a strong position as a party.”

    —Meka Childs , former deputy superintendent under Superintendent Mick Zais

    Facts, please: “S.C. Science Standards that were adopted last year are a disguised set of Common Core Next Generation Science Standards that were pushed through illegally through our current administration, that would be Dr. Zais through Charmeka Childs, particularly.”

    Sheri Few , accusing Childs of being responsible for the approval of state science standards. The standards, like all S.C. academic standards, are approved by the state Department of Education and the Education Oversight Committee

    Are the Supremes listening? “I take offense to adequate education. All of our students need good education.”

    —Sally Atwater , in response to a question about what the candidates consider to be an “minimally adequate” education — a standard set by a landmark education funding court case still awaiting a ruling by the state Supreme Court

    Evolving non-answer: “I lost my husband at a young age. . . . I raised my three girls as a single parent, and I needed the Lord by my side many times. As a teacher, we do ask that moment of silence. And as long as we have tests, many students are going to need . . . that moment of silence and prayer before they take that test.”

    — Sally Atwater , on whether the candidates support the state’s science standard for teaching evolution which sparked a debate over whether creationism should be taught in the classroom

  • Upcoming debates

    Upcoming debates – sponsored by ETV and seven S.C. newspapers, including The State – are:

    Thursday, 7:30 to 8 p.m. – Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate seat held by GOP incumbent Tim Scott

    Thursday, June 5, 7 to 8 p.m. – Republican candidates for lieutenant governor

    Saturday, June 7, 7 to 8 p.m. – Republican candidates for U.S. Senate seat held by GOP incumbent Lindsey Graham

— Eight Republicans running for state superintendent of education faced off Tuesday in an ETV debate — staking out their positions on a range of issues from Common Core education standards and teacher evaluations to whether intelligent design should be taught in the state’s science classrooms.

The candidates are competing to lead the state Department of Education, a largely administrative role that has no direct authority over the state’s more than 80 school districts. But the position does offer candidates a bully pulpit to spread their messages and advocate for their agendas.

To follow the latest news on S.C. politics, like The Buzz on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Molly Spearman, executive director of the S.C. Association for School Administrators, said her experience working as an educator, a former state Education Department employee under Democrat Inez Tenenbaum and, now, an advocate for school administrators has given her the ties and the ability to bring stakeholders to the table to solve problems.

Making computer science a required subject, starting in the 4th grade, and pushing for lower college tuition would be a priority for University of South Carolina math professor Don Jordan.

Charleston County school board member Elizabeth Moffly said she would like to lower the number of credits students need to graduate and to offer more diploma options to students.

Anderson County Board of Education member Gary Burgess said the best way to improve education is to let teachers discipline students, regaining control of the classroom.

Special-education teacher Sally Atwater of Charleston, widow of GOP operative Lee Atwater, said her experience working in Washington on special-education issues under President George H.W. Bush and her recent classroom experience made her the best choice for state schools chief.

Lexington attorney Amy Cofield said what sets her apart is she is the only candidate with experience in law, business and education.

Meka Childs of West Columbia, a former deputy superintendent under current Republican Superintendent Mick Zais, said she would push for local control of education decisions, increasing-school choice options and would not require “on-the-job training.”

The biggest rivalry in the debate emerged between anti-Common Core activist Sheri Few of Lugoff and Childs of West Columbia, who picked up an endorsement from Zais after she resigned from her state position.

Few, who turned nearly every question back to her opposition to Common Core, repeatedly targeted Childs, criticizing her for having worked for the state.

At one point, Few erroneously said Childs was the reason the state secretly passed the Next Generation Science Standards -- equally reviled by Common Core opponents.

In the only rebuttal permitted during the debate, Childs responded: “Our state has not adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, and saying it over and over again is not going to make that true.”

Childs then criticized Few for her attacks, saying the attacks might “inadvertently send up a nomination that doesn’t actually hold true conservative principles” and would only damage the Republican Party.

Few said repealing Common Core’s standards completely would be her top priority if elected.

Other candidates, including Spearman, said not everything about Common Core is bad, but the standards should be evaluated to ensure that children are not required to “spit out the facts.”

The candidates also were asked whether they support the state’s science standards. Those guidelines sparked a debate earlier this year about whether intelligent design, as well as evolution, should be taught.

Spearman provided one of the most direct responses to the question, saying that, as a Christian, she taught her children at home about what their religion says about their creation. But, in the classroom, teachers should give students the facts.

Few also answered the question directly, saying she would support teaching creationism in the classroom.

“There is plenty of science and research behind the theory of intelligent design, and yet it is not allowed in the classroom,” she said, saying she would push for students to receive a more “objective” education.

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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