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The Post and Courier - Getting to the Core of Common Core

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By Robert Behre

Most people haven't heard of the Common Core State Standards, but if some Republican lawmakers get their way, they will soon.

This public school reform began four years ago with governors hoping to promote accountability. It was later embraced by President Barack Obama and now is drawing new questions from those not originally in the loop.

Among their concerns: The initiative will limit states' rights.

"A one-size-fits-all approach from Washington is not the right solution for helping kids who face challenges like I did," said Scott, who almost flunked out of high school. "We need to move past the notion that the federal government knows best when it comes to the unique needs of our students and communities."

Grooms, who has introduced a bill trying to end South Carolina's participation in Common Core, said he doesn't know what additional costs will be involved -- and who will pay for them.

"Not many folks have heard about it, that's sort of the problem," Grooms said. "I can't find one person in South Carolina who had input into it, and now we're in a third year of moving toward Common Core State Standards."

S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais does not support the adoption of the Common Core State Standards because they are a one-size-fits-all solution that requires every student to learn the same material on the same schedule, said Laura Bayne, Zais' director of legislative and public affairs.

However, the state Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee voted to adopt the standards before Zais was elected in 2010.

Despite his opposition, Zais is committed to implementing the standards to the best of his abilities as it is his statutory duty, Bayne said.

A bill to repeal Common Core has passed in Indiana, and similar legislation is pending in other GOP-controlled legislatures, such as Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

But the tide has flowed both ways. Other Republican-controlled legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and South Dakota failed to pass similar bills.

Grooms' legislation has not moved so far, but he predicted any vote on it would be closer next year.

So far, the issue has not been on most people's radar screens. Education Week reported that two national polls found more than half of the American public has never heard of Common Core State Standards.

Clemson University political science professor Dave Woodard said that until recently, he was among those who didn't know about it.

Woodard said if Obama has embraced the initiative, that alone is enough to draw opposition among some conservatives here.

He cited Republicans' opposition to Obama's plans to intervene in Syria as an example. "It's like the guy can't have a good idea," Woodard said. "Most of the time, Republicans have been all for bombing people."

Michael McShane, a research fellow in education policy studies at the free-market-oriented American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said there has been a lot of "conspiracy theorizing" around Common Core, but he said the idea has merit -- if states get the details right.

"I think every single state needs to take a hard look at this," he said. "Do we have the capacity to implement these standards in a reasonable time frame? Are they aligned for what we want for our students? If so, then that's good."

Not only could states compare their students' progress with those in other states, but smaller states also will have a nationwide marketplace for curriculum materials, such as textbooks, he said.

However, it's also unclear how Common Core will dovetail with other education reform efforts, such as new teacher evaluation standards, charter schools and new technology.

"Right now is the time that will make or break the Common Core," McShane added. "The problem going on in the debate right now is you've got a bunch of people on one side who say, "They're good' and a lot of people on the other side who say, "It's bad.' As with many public policy debates, it's not that simple."

McShane said even if the standards are good, "if they're not implemented with care, they could do more harm than good. No one wants to have that conversation."


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