How will learning change in S.C.?

The state Board of Education last week approved new standards for English and math, replacing the Common Core State Standards with state-developed guidelines.

The Palmetto State is moving beyond the Common Core education standards after a year of heated debate, but educators say the new guidelines won’t usher in a radical change in the classroom next year.

“I like that it is written by South Carolinians for South Carolinians to be used in the public schools of South Carolina,” said Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. “We think the new standards are more rigorous than what our students have right now.”

Maness said the new standards mirror some concepts from Common Core, but that’s a function of needing to know the basic skills of English and math.

“In South Carolina, you’ve got to know how to add one-digit numbers,” she said.

The state Board of Education last week approved new standards for English and math, replacing the Common Core State Standards with state-developed guidelines. The change follows a law passed by the General Assembly last year that repealed Common Core, which was adopted in 2010.

South Carolina was among more than 40 states that adopted Common Core standards. Although the effort was not a federal initiative, opponents have criticized Common Core as a nationalization of education. The Common Core standards were fully implemented this school year.

Now, school districts and teachers must be ready to use the new standards by the fall.

New standards

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, who was a vocal opponent of Common Core, said the state-developed standards have removed the “most offensive” parts of Common Core such as certain recommended texts, which Grooms said discouraged American exceptionalism. The new standards, Grooms said, also don’t have “some of the crazy ways of teaching mathematics,” which some parents and educators have complained about.

“We’ve got a much better product than what we had in Common Core,” Grooms said.

Despite the changes, school district officials say that students and teachers aren’t going to see a radical shift in the classroom next school year.

“There isn’t a great worry as far as classroom teachers go in my mind,” said Connie Williams, an English curriculum specialist for the Charleston County School District. “They’re already doing most of what (the new standards) are asking them to do in the classroom.”

Charleston County social studies curriculum specialist Barbara Hairfield, who approved the new standards as a member of the state’s Education Oversight Committee, said education standards are just large concepts that outline what students should know by the end of a course. Those basic ideas, Hairfield said, really can’t be changed.

“The basic overall ideas or concepts for English and math are the universal skills and knowledge that all students need to be able to do,” she said. “Students need to understand multiplication, they need to understand and identify an author’s point of view.”

Williams said there are some adjustments to the sequence of certain lessons in English, but that the basic activities won’t change.

The same thing holds true in math, said Charleston County math curriculum specialist Catherine DeMers.

“Multiplication is still going to be multiplication,” she said.

Jennifer Thorsten, who is a mathematics coordinator for the Berkeley County School District, said the new standards provide more clarity about what students should learn and when — particularly in math.

“Some of (the Common Core standards) were very broad and vague,” said Thorsten, who served on the state Department of Education’s writing team for high school mathematics.

In Common Core, Thorsten said, high school math concepts were not outlined by course, leaving some confusion about when teachers should be teaching certain topics, such as the elements of algebra. The new standards for high school math are divided by course and clearly lay out when certain concepts should be taught, Thorsten said.

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“We took time to make sure those were delineated a little bit more,” she said.

The road ahead

But Moultrie Middle School teacher Jody Stallings isn’t convinced that the new standards aren’t going to have a big impact on teachers. Stallings, who teaches eighth-grade English at the Mount Pleasant school, described the new standards as “even denser than Common Core.”

“It’s difficult to find what you’d be teaching in the classroom and the standard you’re supposed to be teaching,” he said.

Stallings, who is the director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance, said there are some similarities to Common Core, “so the preparation we did last year isn’t out the window.”

Now faced with learning a third set of new standards in five years, Stallings would like to see some continuity in the classroom, but he isn’t holding his breath.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see them change again,” he said.

But Grooms said that’s the point. If teachers do find problems with the new standards, Grooms said the state has the authority to change them.

“The process is there for us to amend the standards,” he said. “Under Common Core we would not have had that option. It was all or nothing.”

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or on Twitter at @PCAmandaKerr.