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Fight heats up over Common Core standards

Ohio adopted national education standards three years ago, but a growing group of citizens and conservative lawmakers want to reverse that decision because they say the state can do better.

State officials stand by the decision to adopt national K-12 education Common Core standards in math and language arts, an effort spearheaded by governors and education officials to raise the bar and make students competitive with peers around the country and world.

Supporters say Common Core standards are better and tougher than Ohio’s old standards. Schools began teaching some of Common Core last year, with plans for full implementation in the 2014-15 school year. Ohio plans to administer tests based, in part, on those standards in spring 2014.

Some lawmakers say it’s not too late to stop full implementation and have introduced a bill that would halt the standards and prohibit use of nationally developed tests based on those standards.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the Common Core standards. In Ohio, and most states, the standards were approved and adopted by the State Board of Education.

Bi-partisan support

Politically, Common Core hasn’t fallen squarely on the side of Republicans or Democrats. President Obama has championed the new standards, but so have Republicans including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Republicans in neighboring Indiana adopted the standards in 2010, but Republicans passed a bill in April pausing the state’s implementation and prohibiting use of any national tests created.

Michigan’s new state budget prohibits any state money from being spent on implementing the standards there.

Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, introduced House Bill 237 earlier this month, with the support of a dozen Republican co-sponsors. Thompson said he had not heard much about Common Core as a member of the House Education Committee until constituents began sharing their concerns with him.

“The goal of the bill is really to have that discussion that we really never had, as far as I’m concerned,” Thompson said.

The National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers led development of the standards and released a draft in March 2010.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said the agency held five regional meetings for school district leaders and educators and 13 public meetings in 2010 to explain the standards and answer questions. Charlton said videos of those meetings were posted online and the standards were presented to lawmakers on the House and Senate education committees.

“There was a fairly formidable effort made to make sure these standards were vetted and talked about before the board voted to move forward on them,” Charlton said.

Senate Education Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said she doesn’t think the Senate would support a bill repealing Common Core.

“It’s unfortunate we have to spend so much time setting people straight about how the Common Core actually came to be and who’s responsible for it,” she said.

Confusion and concerns

Ohio isn’t alone in struggling to inform parents and other citizens of the upcoming changes.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they have never heard of Common Core State Standards, according to a Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa poll released last week. Most of those who had heard of Common Core said they neither understand the standards nor endorse them.

Mark Stevenson, director of pro-home school PAC Ohioans for Educational Freedom, said Common Core developed rapidly compared to other federal education reforms that were phased in over years. Stevenson admitted he didn’t learn of the standards until earlier this year.

“The American public is a little slow on the uptake,” Stevenson said. “It starts as a slow boil and then all of the sudden it becomes a big heat.”

Stevenson said his group is concerned that Common Core will drive all assessments, including college entrance exams, so home-school parents don’t have a choice.

In Ohio, the standards are slated to be phased in amid several state-led education changes: new teacher evaluations, new assessments and significant changes to report cards used to evaluate school achievement.

Heidi Huber, parent and co-founder of the group Ohioans Against Common Core, said the federal government is driving all of the changes through the new standards. Huber said she learned the standards this year, which indicates state officials did not do enough to inform Ohioans of the change, nor do they want to.

“What was supposedly a voluntary and state-led effort now has produced federally copyrighted standards, national assessments, federally prescribed data-mining and federally prescribed teacher evaluations,” Huber said.

Huber said Ohio’s elected lawmakers should have had the authority to approve new standards.

Lehner, who served as a state representative when Common Core was adopted, disagreed.

“It’s the role of the state board to do that and the proper processes were followed,” Lehner said. “And last time I looked, the legislature is not made up of a bunch of educators who understand a whole lot about standards and curriculum, and I think it’s the last body we want making decisions on serious education matters.”

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