The Buzz

February 5, 2014

STATE HOUSE: National anti-Common Core activists face off with S.C. educators who support standards

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to

National experts opposing Common Core education standards faced off with two S.C. educators and a Chamber of Commerce official Wednesday who urged a Senate panel not to take steps to roll back the education standards that outline what students should know and be able to do at every grade level.

Opponents of Common Core in South Carolina, which the state adopted in 2010, have been trying to build momentum to void the standards, which South Carolina schools starting using.

Gov. Nikki Haley has said she opposes the standards, and bills in the state Legislature would void them or give the General Assembly final say in the adoption of education standards.

The standards, said Jane Robbins with the American Principles Project at Wednesday's Senate hearing, "embrace and exacerbate everything that is bad about public education for the last 50 years."

Robbins criticized the development of the standards by two private trade associations and its backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave grants to teachers organizations and other groups to promote the standards.

Schools, she said, would be forced to buy curriculum aligned with the standards with little choice, which effectively would remove local control over what students learn.

The standards would promote "government-approved habits of mind" and produce "across-the-board mediocrity," Robbins said.

But disagreeing with Robbins and the other national critics of the standards were a S.C. public school superintendent, a curriculum coordinator and a representative of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, who came with stories from public-school teachers and principals about the successes they've had with teaching from the Common Core standards in their classrooms.

Common Core is "a set of academic goals and shared expectations for what students should know," said Russell Booker, superintendent of Spartanburg 7 school district. "We dictate at the classroom level, at the school level and at the district level what our curriculum is going to look like." Common Core, he said, "hasn't been driving our decisions as a school district. Common Core is only one small variable in a much larger equation of what we're trying to do with education today," he said.

Booker urged the senators not to undo the last four years of work carrying out the standards.

His district has spent "a significant amount of time, training, resources, communicating with our parents and teachers," transitioning to the new education standards, he said. "And we haven't had the first concern from our local community about these standards."

Booker said the standards align local expectations with "what's going on globally right now."

"My wife and I, we want to make sure that our children, when they apply for those colleges and those scholarships, that they're on equal footing with their peers. With our current system in South Carolina, we have no way of knowing that."

Booker said his son told him he didn't like the standards "because you have to explain everything. Well, quite frankly, I think that's what we need -- to be taking or kids to a deeper level of understanding."

What Common Core has not done, he said, is take away flexibility from what curriculum educators use and what educational experiences students are offered such as arts-infused, Montessori, and science and technology-focused learning.

Cheers and jeers came from a packed hearing room that appeared filled with both supporters and opponents of the standards.

Sheri Few, who is running for the Republican nomination for state Superintendent of Education, also attended.

Asked why no local educators spoke at the meeting in opposition to Common Core, Few said that educators are afraid to speak out, but have been sharing their experiences privately with her since she took up the fight against Common Core last year.

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