Parents, lawmakers step up effort to repeal Common Core in South Carolina

When former state Superintendent Jim Rex announced in July 2010 that South Carolina would adopt the Common Core State Standards he signaled it as an opportunity for the state to join others in aligning and improving academic standards.

Common Core protest

Parents and students protest Common Core outside the state Department of Education offices. (file photo by Kelly Petty)

“This isn’t a top-down federal mandate,” Rex said at the time. “It’s a collective effort of the states, which can adapt the Common Core standards to their individual situations and timelines.”

School districts across South Carolina have spent the past three years rushing to get teachers acclimated to the new standards and unveiling soft roll-outs of the curriculum to prepare students for full implementation.

But Common Core in South Carolina hasn’t gotten much fanfare from parents frustrated over their children’s academic performance and worried they are seeing a complete federal takeover of education that standardizes learning and limits creativity.

“We are focused on gutting this thing,” said Sheri Few, founder and president of the S.C. Parents Involved in Education. “There are thousands of parents across the state who are opposed to it.”

SCPIE has worked the past few months to bring attention to Common Core. The organization is close to culminating its efforts after Few announced last week that she would run for the state school superintendent position, a job being vacated by Republican Mick Zais.

Few and SCPIE have held conferences and forums in recent months to give parents and Few’s supporters a place to air their grievances over the new standards.

“It’s mean to dumb down our kids,” said SCPIE member Leisha Huffstetler. “It’s not developmentally appropriate.”

Common Core State Standards were intended to focus on providing what supporters say is rigorous and in-depth coursework in language arts and mathematics so students leave school with a deeper understanding of the concepts and prepared for college and the workforce.

Jackie Hicks, president of the South Carolina Education Association, said Common Core gives students the skills businesses are looking for.

“They’re the ones telling us that our students are not ready for the business world,” she said. “If you’re working in a company, you have to have an understanding of that vocabulary that is in business texts. Its not the same understanding you have when reading literature.”

For proponents of Common Core, the new standards were supposed to replace the failed policies of the No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress in 2001.

But the parents and activists fighting the standards think Common Core expands the worst aspects of the No Child Left Behind by replacing tests with more tests and replacing teacher accountability with student performance.

Some parents in South Carolina have concerns over the Common Core State Standards. Photo by Kelly Petty.

Some parents in South Carolina have concerns over the Common Core State Standards. (file photo by Kelly Petty)

At a protest in front of the state Department of Education building in November, parents from across South Carolina took their children out of class for the day to send a clear message of how they felt about Common Core.

Nettie Musselman, a mother of four from Landrum who attended the protest, said she noticed a change in her children since her district began adding the standards into the curriculum.

“It’s just really hard … to see them not enjoying school like they used to,” she said.

Her daughter Tiffany, an eighth-grader, agreed.

“I take Algebra I in eighth grade. Sometimes I just get frustrated,” she said. “I don’t think [the teacher] knows what she’s doing.”

Musselman said she also had a hard time getting teachers to express how they really felt about Common Core.

“They’re very silent about it because they’re afraid to lose their jobs,” she said. “There’s a lot of frustration.”

Alice Yoder, a retired teacher who tutors at elementary schools in Rock Hill said she fears teachers would be fired and replaced by those who don’t understand Common Core.

“A lot of teachers, they’re afraid.” she said.

Hicks said in a statement that the protest denied “children a day’s worth of valuable school instructional time. We should never use our children as political pawns.”

Hicks said any concerns about teachers incorporating Common Core is an issue of expanding and funding professional development opportunities in the state.

The state Republican Party heard the concerns and recently issued a resolution to reject Common Core. The resolution exclusively called for not only the repeal of the standards, but also withdrawing the state out of the Smarter Balanced Assessments that coincide with the standards, eliminating student data collection and prohibiting state officials from entering into any agreement that cedes control over education to outside entities.

Common Core also has gotten the attention of South Carolina’s U.S. senators, who are working to fight Common Core at the federal level.

“When states are in charge, the kids are better off,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

SCPIE has tried to get Gov. Nikki Haley to repeal the standards to no avail. Haley, however, recently threw her support behind Senate bill 300, which would repeal the 2010 adoption of Common Core.

In a letter to state Sen. Mike Fair, Haley stated that South Carolina should find  a solution to its own problems and not “cede (education) to the consensus of other states.”

Critics of Common Core says it hurts disadvantaged students. Photo by Kelly Petty.

Critics of Common Core says it hurts disadvantaged students. (file photo by Kelly Petty)

The bill to repeal Common Core implementation is currently in the education committee. Few said several senators have added their names in support but that it still needs to survive the committee so it can be voted on by the full Senate.

Few said she plans to hold another anti-Common Core rally on Feb. 14 at the State House.

In the meantime, districts in South Carolina, including Richland One and Richland Two, will continue to move forward with preparations for full implementation of the standards this fall.

Hicks said if given time, teachers and students will adjust to Common Core and that parents will get behind something that will make South Carolina’s students competitive with others nationally and globally.

“Many people think standards are curriculum and that is not true,” Hicks said. “If there is a standard for algebra in South Carolina, it’s the same as in Missouri. To develop the curriculum, we have to meet a higher standard.”

“We listen to people who really haven’t looked at the standards. More will be expected from students,” Hicks said.

ColaDaily reporter Rachel Ham contributed to this report.

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