Although Charleston County students already are learning the skills required by the new Common Core State Standards, an increasing number of local residents and officials are calling for that to stop.
Some spoke out against the standards on Monday night during the county school board meeting, and board members had a lengthy discussion about the standards. The board didn’t take any action, but it plans to continue its conversation during an upcoming workshop.
Board member Elizabeth Moffly said she’d like the board to approve a resolution to send to lawmakers that would encourage repealing the standards because it takes away local control.
“Common Core is not something we can do anything about once it is fully implemented,” she said.
The Common Core State Standards define what students must learn in grades K-12 in English language arts and math. The state Education Oversight Committee and the state Board of Education agreed to adopt the standards three years ago, but opposition to that is rising as the state approaches the 2014-15 school year, which is when it will fully implement and test the standards.
One of the concerns, particularly among Republicans, is that using Common Core will limit state’s rights and essentially allow the federal government to take over the state’s education system.
S.C. Parents Involved in Education, a group that opposes the Common Core, along with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, helped organize a day-long program in Columbia on Saturday dubbed, “Exposing Common Core, One Rotten Apple.” Grooms also has introduced a bill trying to end the state’s participation in Common Core.
John Steinberger, Charleston County Republican party chair, encouraged the board to reach out to lawmakers in support of Grooms’ proposal. He and a half-dozen others expressed various concerns with the standards, from its cost to its contents.
“We don’t want to see the bar lowered,” he said. “We need to compete with the rest of the world instead of falling further behind. We need to legislatively undo what the state school board did and have the best education standards in the world.”
School Superintendent Nancy McGinley said the district didn’t take a political position when the state adopted the standards.
“Our position is we have a moral obligation to prepare our students to master these standards,” she said. “If our students are going to be tested, this is what we need to prepare them for.”
That’s one of the reasons why she proposed and the board approved a $1.7 million investment this school year for training for teachers on the new standards. Core academic subject teachers had three days dedicated to Common Core that were added to their contracts.
The new standards are about applying knowledge, and that’s what Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies are looking for in future employees, McGinley said. Still, she said residents have raised valid questions in terms of how much it will cost and who is going to pay for it.
In her presentation to the county board, Chief Academic Officer Lisa Herring gave the board an example of how Common Core required students to apply higher-order thinking skills to real-world situations.
Under the state’s math standards, a fifth-grader might be asked to compare whole numbers, decimals and fractions by choosing the true equation from a multiple choice list. Under the new standards, students would be given a word problem, such as five swimmers finished a 50-meter race with five different finish times. Students would be asked to explain how the results of the race would change if a clock was used that rounded their time to the nearest tenth.
“Just think about the layers of information that the student would have to be able to address, and not just in terms of rounding,” Herring said. “It’s a bit more in depth, and we believe a bit more rigorous.”
Board members had an extensive conversation about the new standards, and they asked questions about how the standards would push advanced students and whether the district was prepared to move to online testing. Herring drew a distinction between the standards, or what students must learn, and the curriculum, which is how that is taught, and she said the curriculum still will be delivered in different ways for different children.
“We meet our students where they are,” she said.
Officials are studying the district’s technology infrastructure. Board member Michael Miller said many students don’t have access to computers on a daily basis, so he wanted to know what was being done to ensure they would have the skills necessary to take online tests.
McGinley said elementary schools are implementing a new typing curriculum, and they also are sharing $1 million that helps pay for computer lab teachers.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.