Beaufort County officials react to Common Core backlash

tbarton@islandpacket.comJune 12, 2013 

A backlash against the Common Core educational standards for grade school has hit the radio talk shows and Internet blogs in recent weeks.

The tea party has taken it up as a rallying cry against a federal takeover of education, including in Beaufort County.

"It is a clear violation of the state's right to dictate curriculum, and ... as usual, federal money has been the lure," said Bluffton Tea Party member Bert Walker.

Walker and some other conservatives also say the government will collect "massive amounts" of students' personal data, despite federal privacy protections.

Supporters vehemently deny that claim.

"There are no data requirements in the Common Core," said Kate Dando, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Chief State School Officers. The nonprofit group of public officials provides technical assistance and advocacy on education issues, according to its website.

Student assessments and what is done with data from them are left to the discretion of each state that adopts the standards, according to the council.

Other conservatives, such as former Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, support Common Core and so do many major business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They argue the standards are necessary for students to keep up with the rest of the world. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving grants to support their implementation.

South Carolina is among 45 states and the District of Columbia that have agreed to implement the more rigorous English and mathematics standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The goal is to provide standards that are high and consistent across states, imparting the knowledge and skills students need to be ready for college and careers.

The curriculum requires students to use math to analyze realistic problems, understand them better and make decisions. It also requires students to read more nonfiction, explore concepts at a deeper level and communicate their understanding through writing, speaking and problem-solving, according to Dereck Rhoads, the Beaufort County School District's chief instructional officer.

South Carolina adopted the standards in 2010, and teachers in Beaufort County public schools have gradually folded them into lessons. County elementary schools switched to the new curriculum this school year, and full implementation is to begin in 2014-15.

The federal government did not require or develop the standards.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, however, contends that Common Core is an intrusive mandate pushed by the Obama administration. It will give the federal government a more prominent role in education, Davis said, "and the implications of that have simply not been considered."

Barbara Nielsen of Bluffton, the state Superintendent of Education from 1990 to 1999, disagrees.

"States set the standards," said Nielsen, who supports Common Core. "... And school districts determine how the standards should be taught."

Beaufort County Board of Education Chairman Bill Evans also backs Common Core.

"I think most people recognize the (importance) of developing common understanding and beliefs about what students should know to be independent thinkers," Evans said. "I don't think the vast majority of people question that."

Renee Schoof of McClatchy's Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

Related content

  1. Bluffton parents raise concerns about Beaufort County school standards: April 30, 2013
  2. Common Core State Standards Initiative: Frequently Asked Questions
  3. National Education Association Common Core State Standards Toolkit

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