COLUMBIA - The number of candidates vying for the seat of state Superintendent of Education has grown as the weeks have gone on, but some of them say they are growing weary of the conversation being dominated by the opposition to Common Core standards.
The Common Core State Standards are a new set of standards that define what students must learn in grades K-12 in English language arts and math. A bill has been filed in the state Senate that would repeal the standards.
The majority of the candidates - Montrio Belton, Gary Burgess, Charmeka Childs, Amy Cofield, Don Jordan and Elizabeth Moffly - say there are other issues plaguing the state's education system beyond Common Core that must be addressed as well, and they intend to break through the Common Core rhetoric taking place during debates.
Here is a list of candidates running for state superintendent of education:
Childs said she intends to highlight 10 issues in education over the next 10 weeks, for example. She plans to tackle "soft skills for hard work" in the coming week. That's based on the concerns she's heard throughout the state about students who are graduating without the skills to enter the workforce.
"I argue that the skills that are necessary to be successful at work are also necessary to be successful in college," Childs said. "The ability to work hard, to be known to show up to class on time, to persevere on a project or until a task is done, those are things that transcend work through college."
Burgess argued the primary issue in education is that the state has a broken education system that serves text-savvy and special needs kids well, but the middle group of students does not receive the same attention.
Moffly said having teachers educating students to pass a test is a big issue, while Cofield said retention of quality teachers is a major problem. Jordan said his issue is tuition; students who wish to attend college face an ever-growing bill to attend.
But Few, whose primary platform is the opposition to Common Core, said anyone who trivializes the issue is not a serious candidate.
"If they are trivializing it, they are marginalizing parents by downplaying the need to repeal Common Core," she said. "If I become elected I will work day and night for four years until we pull this out by its roots."
The standards are destroying public education, Few said. Belton, however, says not so.
Belton is seeking the Democratic nomination, as is Rep. Mike Anthony, D-Union. Belton that said unlike his Republican counterparts, he doesn't have to wrap himself around the Common Core issue - especially because he supports the standards.
As a former teacher and principal, Belton said educators understand the need for Common Core and added that those who are leading the charge against the standards know absolutely nothing about educational standards.
"The people who are out there in the echo chamber, they are just louder, they are very well-funded and they are very well-organized," Belton said. "But I do believe they are the vocal minority, because I'm not hearing this type of chatter when I'm talking to pragmatic Republicans, pragmatic Democrats and educators."
Belton rebuffed the argument that teachers who oppose Common Core are too afraid to speak up, adding that he has not found them. But he added that change always presents challenges.
"It's challenging any time we transition to new standards," Belton said. "What's more tough to them is the uncertainty that is continued to be created by leaders of the state."
Attempts to reach Anthony, Molly Spearman and Shannon Erickson were unsuccessful.
Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 843-708-5891.