Common Core isn’t the hot-button issue it was during South Carolina’s primary season for candidates vying to be superintendent of education.
While Republican Molly Spearman and Democrat Tom Thompson were split on whether the state should review Common Core during Monday’s ETV debate, the onetime furor over the education standards had calmed to cordial discussion.
“Washington does become too involved sometimes in things that can be handled better at the state and local level,” Spearman said, referring to a main complaint against the education standards.
Meanwhile, the two candidates agreed tax revenues from mega-businesses that locate in South Carolina should be shared among all the state’s school districts.
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Spearman, who leads an association of school administrators and formerly was a music teacher, assistant principal and lawmaker, said she is glad a state panel is reviewing Common Core’s standards.
Thompson, who referred to himself as a “life-long educator” and “life-long Democrat,” said the federal government is not the problem.
Common Core’s standards, developed by state education leaders and governors in 48 states, specify what students should know at various grades. State and local educators determine how the standards are taught.
Teachers are having the rug pulled out from under them with the review of those standards, said Thompson, a former professor and dean of graduate studies at S.C. State University.
He said principals around the state have told him teachers were pleased with the standards, students were making progress and they were happy about being engaged with the curriculum.
Spearman said she is optimistic the group of S.C. experts reviewing the standards will produce rigorous guidelines.
“We have to have high standards approved by South Carolinians so that we can make sure that every graduate is prepared for whatever the next step may be,” Spearman said.
After the standards are reviewed, the next step will be working on an assessment tool, Spearman said, adding schools have been testing too much.
Once testing is addressed, Spearman said her next focus, if elected, would be teacher evaluations.
Both candidates said that, similar to Common Core, the new standards will need to focus on problem-solving instead of testing facts and information.
Share the wealth?
Both candidates agreed that when major companies, such as a Boeing or BMW, locate in one area of the state, some of the tax revenues they produce should go to support education statewide.
Both also said the state should fully fund education but current funding formulas are outdated.
Spearman said those funding formulas were devised when every community in the state had a textile mill and industry to help pay for its schools. For the past 50 years, the funding formulas have been patched, she added.
Spearman said she supports redoing the way the state collects money for schools to make it more fair for all school districts and students. “We put too much burden on the local community, and I do think it’s a state responsibility.”
Thompson said he wants to create a nonprofit organization to assist in the financing of building projects.
He said the idea of a “minimally adequate” education — the only guarantee included in the state Constitution — is repulsive.
“Our children deserve more, and we should work to give them more,” he said, recommending the state guarantee a “high-quality education.”
Public school choice
Neither candidate endorsed using taxpayer money for private schools.
Thompson said parents should have genuine choice within public schools, keeping the resources available to public education.
“We have to make sure that we make the public school system as strong as it can possibly be, to drive economic development in this state before we start looking outside of the system,” he said.
Spearman said she is proud of the progress the state has made in school choice, citing charter schools, and will work for more choices within public schools. She also said she supports a new state program that allows students with special needs to go to private schools.