Common Core standards could change little in SC, despite new law

The Associated PressJune 14, 2014 

— Opponents of Common Core tout a law signed by Gov. Nikki Haley as throwing out the controversial education standards in exchange for state-made guidelines by the 2015-16 school year. In reality, however, little may change.

The law, signed May 30, requires a yet-to-be-created panel of educators, parents, and community and business leaders to begin reviewing South Carolina’s math and reading standards by January. Any changes must be approved by both the state Board of Education and the independent Education Oversight Committee for implementation when students walk into classrooms in August 2015.

“We’re getting out of Common Core and will write our own standards,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who pushed for legislation that initially sought to repeal Common Core standards immediately.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, says that’s political spin.

“The spin is that we did away with, abolished, Common Core. We didn’t do anything to it this year other than move up in time the cyclical review, probably to the detriment of the review,” Hutto said.

The compromise law essentially steps up a review process that would have occurred anyway. It calls for the panel to review current math and reading standards, which are Common Core.

Melanie Barton, director of the Education Oversight Committee, expects the panel to start its work by August, months earlier than the law requires. That still leaves the group little time, she said, as the multilevel approval process needs to be wrapped up next spring, so teachers can prepare for any changes in what their students are expected to learn.

“If you’re going to wholesale write new standards, it takes a minimum of two years,” Barton said. “I just don’t think in nine months you can totally rewrite two entire standards and do justice to the children of this state.”

The end result will likely be standards that look very similar to Common Core, with some tweaking. Two definite additions will be requiring elementary students to learn how to write in cursive and memorize multiplication tables, as mandated in a separate law dubbed the “Back to Basics in Education Act,” which Haley signed Monday.

Another expected change is adding standards for a high school calculus course, which Common Core lacks.

Many people oppose Common Core as a nationalization of public education, though it’s not federal. The initiative was led by governors and superintendents, through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. However, the Obama administration encouraged states to sign on through incentives.

Common Core outlines what skills students in kindergarten through 12th grade should learn to be ready for college and careers, replacing standards that varied state-to-state.

The Education Oversight Committee will seek input on the standards through a survey available next month. The agency will also look at what other states have done.

Officials don’t want to risk losing the state’s federal waiver from the all-or-nothing provisions of the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which otherwise requires that every student score proficient on math and reading tests this year. No school in South Carolina meets that benchmark. Since Congress failed to make changes to the law, the Obama administration allowed states to seek an exemption. Requirements for flexibility, granted to South Carolina in 2012, included having standards that adequately prepare students for college or careers, and using tests aligned to those standards by next school year.

South Carolina has rolled out Common Core standards statewide since the state Board of Education and Education Oversight Committee adopted them in 2010. Even with the new law, the final step of implementation – testing students on the Common Core standards – will occur next school year.

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