Board Adopts National Standards Despite Concerns

August 4, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveSouth Carolina last month joined more than two dozen other states in adopting new national standards for what students should master in math and English.

But the move by the S.C. Board of Education to embrace so-called “Common Core Standards” was far from unanimous, with several members of the 17-member board expressing concern.

“I think this board, I think this (state) department (of education), I think the teachers in this state are better able to establish standards in how we teach in South Carolina,” said board member Mike Brenan. “My fear is that down the road, that with, in essence, the nationalizing of education, that if problems occur reform is going to be just that more difficult ….”

The Common Core Standards are new education guidelines created to form a more consistent elementary and high school curriculum for students in all 50 states. The goal is to have a single standard across the nation rather than each state having its own. To date, at least 30 states have adopted the national standards.

However, Texas and Alaska have said they do not want to participate in developing the standards, and Virginia has made it known that it does not plan to adopt the benchmarks. Minnesota has declined to adopt national standards for math, in addition.

The measure was passed by the S.C. Board of Education by a voice vote during its July 14 meeting. At least four board members voted against implementing the national standards: Brenan, Phillip Bowers, Libby Swad and Britt Blackwell.

“I’m just not ready to hand over control to the federal government,” argued Bowers during the board meeting. “Right now, this board owns the standards in the state and, by default, we own what happens in the classroom. We’re selling out to the federal government if we let them begin setting our standards, and then by default they will run our classrooms. That is wrong.”

Board Chairman Tim Moore, however, made it clear that dissention wasn’t going to be brooked.

“South Carolina has had over 300 years to develop an adequate education system and we haven’t done it, primarily because of lack of funding, lack of attention from the Legislature and, probably, a lack of demand from the public,” he said.

As to arguments that South Carolina shouldn’t give up control of its education to the federal government, Moore would have none of it.

“I hear people say the federal government is taking over. This is the United States of America. We should not be opposed to the federal government because we are the federal government,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat. … There’s nothing wrong with the federal government.

“Too many people in South Carolina are still hung up on the Reconstruction period of 1865 and thereafter, when the federal government did come in and take over South Carolina; and a lot of people haven’t moved past that,” he said.

Board member Bonnie Disney was a bit more thoughtful in her defense of Common Core Standards.

“We spent 20 years in the military, and I think we’ve seen every state,” she said. “I can tell you that there’s an impact when you take children and go from California to Long Island, (N.Y.), to South Carolina to Japan to Turkey without a (standard education) system. And you jerk those children around with all the different systems, and I think it’s wrong. I think we need to have a unified type way to help our children in our schools.”

Common Core Standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, marking the first time states have collaborated to determine what students should know, according the S.C. Department of Education.

The new standards will be implemented during the 2013-14 school year, with planning and training carried out during the next two school years.

“I think having a test that all students can take so you can compare children in New York and children in Florida and know that they’re all in the same playing field – I think that’s a great idea,” board member Swad said. “But I think it’s something states should do on their own, and the involvement of the federal government in our education system is wrong. It’s against our country’s policy and Constitution.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 446-3431, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.