Getting to core of controversy
Legislators, teachers, parents share concerns
January 28. 2014 12:51PM
The implementation of nationally recognized testing standards in South Dakota drew strong criticism at a public forum Saturday at the Dell Rapids American Legion Hall.
South Dakota is one of 45 states to adopt new standards in math and language arts – called Common Core – meant to provide a framework for what students should know at each grade level.
The standards were developed by a group of education professional convened at the request of National Governors Association. The team included David Coleman, the University of Arizona's William McCallum, Phil Daro, and Student Achievement Partners founder, Jason Zimba and Susan Pimentel to write standards in the area of mathematics and literacy.
The standards have been in use at Dell Rapids schools since 2012-13 academic year, and for more than a year at other South Dakota schools. Lawmakers in Pierre have appropriated more than $8 to train teachers on the new standards.
Mary Scheel-Buysse of South Dakotans Against Common Core said Saturday the new standards need greater scrutiny before implementation.
Scheel-Buysse said Common Core was installed without any input from parents, teachers or elected officials.
In South Dakota, the state education board adopted the testing standards in November 2010.
“Isn’t it amazing that our board of education managed to adopt these standards before legislators even went to Pierre for a budget address,” Scheel-Buysse said.
But the topic of Common Core has certainly been debated by governing bodies since then. In Indiana, the Legislature is reviewing the requirements. In Ohio and Florida, legislation has been advanced that would delay implementation of Common Core.
In South Dakota, the Legislature has discussed creating a council to evaluate the Common Core standards and prohibiting the state Department of Education from implementing new educational standards for two years that are developed outside South Dakota. One lawmaker plans to introduce a bill that would repeal Common Core altogether.
Federal intrusion among concerns
District 25 Rep. Scott Ecklund, R-Brandon, said he’s been inundated with anti-Common Core emails, and the underlying concern from his constituents is a loss of local control in education.
“You will see me standing up for local school boards and local control,” said the Senate education committee member. “This is not that.”
The federal government had no role in creating the standards, but U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told states they would have to adopt college- and career-ready standards to compete for hundreds of millions in education grant dollars.
“To me, it’s federal intrusion into what is the realm of the states,” said Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, who plans to introduce the bill repealing Common Core. “We’re smart enough, we can come up with our own standards.”
Scheel-Buysse said Common Core’s emphasis on making students college- and career-ready is noble, but distracts from what education is about.
“College and career readiness is a byproduct of a great education. It is not the goal of education,” she said. “This is workforce training.”
Dell Rapids science teacher Darwin Daugaard opposes Common Core and said he feels like he’s being micromanaged.
“Get rid of the Common Core, let us teach the basics. Let us teach the kids what they need,” he said. “If I haven’t done that in the past, my own personal kids wouldn’t be successful.”
Many confuse the Common Core standards, educational benchmarks for students to meet, for standard curriculum. Common Core does not dictate curriculum, books or teaching methods, according to proponents of the new standard. But Scheel-Buysse said curriculum will be driven by Common Core if only in an indirect way.
“When you have a standard of things that have to be taught, the curriculum will have to align,” she said.
Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, a retired teacher, is one of the strongest opponents of the new standards. In recent sessions, he has pushed legislation to roll back or limit Common Core on multiple fronts, but his proposals failed last year.
Bolin said he and others will try to stop Common Core on multiple fronts this session.
One measure that would pay for a study of the standards received 18-16 support in the Senate — but because it appropriated money, it needed 24 votes to pass. The original bill set aside $100,000 to fund the study, though a last-minute amendment changed that to $1 in a procedural move that left the two-thirds vote requirement intact.
Supporters said it was good to examine the standards, which didn’t cause much fuss when adopted but which have become increasingly controversial.
Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, opposed the creation of a council.
“I voted against setting up a study, because we’ve already done those jobs,” Lucas said. “We’ve had teacher groups involved as well as administrators to determine what our students should be learning at each grade level. To do another task force would just repeat what we’ve already done. It’s unneeded. Whether it costs $1 or $100,000, it’s money we don’t need to spend.”
Another Common Core-related bill, imposing a temporary two-year moratorium on any new educational standards and slowing down the process of adding standards after that, easily passed the Senate and will head to the House.
|Joe Sneve / Dell Rapids Tribune
State Rep. Scott Ecklund, left, and Mary Scheel-Buysse of South Dakotans Against Common Core spoke to about 50 people, including Dell Rapids school board members, teachers and parents, about their concerns over the new testing standards being implemented in South Dakota during a public forum Saturday at the Dell Rapids American Legion Hall.