Common Core advocates, opponents take debate to South Carolina Senate

Common Core opponents left the State House on Wednesday morning charged to put up a fight to rid the state of the new education standards.

“Our side had a slam dunk,” said Sheri Few, president of the South Carolina Parents Involved In Education and candidate for the state Superintendent of Education. “We absolutely persevered.”

Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The standards are designed to improve math and English language arts curriculum to provide the same academic benchmarks state to state and ensure American students can compete globally.

Members of the Senate K-12 Education Committee heard from both sides of the debate as they prepare to vote on three bills, including Senate bill 300 that would repeal Common Core.

Jane Robbins, a leader in the national anti-Common Core movement and South Carolina native, told lawmakers that the standards were inconspicuously approved under a partnership between the federal government and corporate interests to centralize education.

She claimed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded efforts to push the standards, including paying states like South Carolina to go along with the curriculum changes.

“There is not a single parent that has voted for Bill Gates,” Robbins said.

According to a report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the state did receive a little more than $1.6 million in 2001 as an educational grant under the Gates’ State Challenge Grants for Leadership Program. The program was designed to improve leadership training and expand technology in schools.

In 1999, the Foundation gave the South Carolina State Library a $4.3 million grant to improve technology access in the state’s public libraries.

Robbins also criticized Common Core for mandating the collection of student data which she felt was a breach of privacy, forcing South Carolina schools to select books that are aligned to the standards and promoting the selection of informational texts over literature.

“We don’t have to settle for the drab uniformity of Common Core,” Robbins said.

Supporters of the standards told senators that opponents’ claims were overblown and did not reflect what happens in classrooms.

Russell Booker, superintendent of Spartanburg 7 School District, said Common Core was one part of a host of education initiatives in which students participate. Booker pointed to other programs including Montessori, the Freshman Academy and the SevenIgnites program, which has given a MacBook to every student in third through 12th grade.

He said assessment scores are up, graduation rates have improved and enrollment in Advance Placement classes among all students continues to rise.

“Common Core is one small variable in what we’re trying to do in the state,” he said.

Sheila Huckabee Gwinn, assistant superintendent for Curriculum & Administrative Services in the Clover School District in York County, came to the meeting to dispel what she described as myths surrounding the implementation of Common Core.

Gwinn said the district received a phone message from an angry parent saying Common Core was an “anti-Christian, one-size-fits-all, left-winged attempt for federal government to take over public education and will force schools to teach to tests not kids.”

Gwinn said the standards were end-goals that tell teachers what students should know and what they should be able to do. She said cursive writing, statistics and other high school courses would not be eliminated in favor of Common Core. Traditional literary texts also would remain in classrooms.

“The classics are alive and well in our high schools right now,” she said.

Gwinn also emphasized the multimillion dollar investment that the state and school districts have spent to reorganize and restructure curriculum to prepare for Common Core.

She cited estimates made by the state Department of Education that it spent 46.7 million in unrecoverable costs for the 2012-13 school year. More specifically, 40 districts estimated they spent 29.5 million in costs.

Activists opposed to Common Core outnumbered supporters at Wednesday’s meeting and were vocal, applauding Robbins and others who stood in opposition to the standards.

Chapin resident Liesha Huffstetler, who came with her two children, said Common Core moves students to the middle in terms of achievement instead of building on academic strengths.

“It makes kids common. My kids are not common,” she said.

The Senate K-12 Education Committee will meet Feb. 19 to discuss Senate Bill 300, which would repeal Common Core. That same day Common Core opponents will hold a rally on at the State House.