Top SD education official ready for Common Core battle
By Chet Brokaw
PIERRE — State Education Secretary Melody Schopp expects to spend much of the upcoming South Dakota legislative session defending the Common Core standards that establish what students should know in math and English at each grade level. She’s ready for the battle. “We're going to stay firm, and hopefully the message will be clear that it’s the right thing for South Dakota,” Schopp said.
School districts this year began implementing the standards, adopted by 45 states, but those guidelines are coming under increasing attacks from some lawmakers and others who argue they take away too much local control of schools.
Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, a retired teacher who has criticized the standards for several years, said he and other lawmakers will introduce bills in the legislative session starting Tuesday that seek to limit or even scrap Common Core.
The effort will include proposals to phase out the standards over several years, put the brakes on the standards pending additional study, allow parents to exempt their children from testing and prevent information on individual students from being given to the federal government.
“Fundamentally, it goes against the basic principle of American education, which is that local people who pay local taxes to support their local schools are going to be cut out of the educational process. They’re going to lose control of their local school,” Bolin said.
Schopp said the federal government was not involved in the state-led effort to develop the standards, though federal officials have supported the project. The standards were developed by states in an initiative started by the governors and chief education officers of the 45 states involved.
Individual student information only goes to parents, school administrators and that student’s teachers, not the federal government, she said. Each school district chooses its own curriculum and other materials and decides how to teach those skills, Schopp said.
“That’s all local control. Those are decisions that happen locally, so none of that has changed or will change as a result of Common Core,” the education secretary said.
Legislative leaders said they doubt lawmakers will do away with Common Core because the state has too much time and money invested.
The governor would likely veto such an effort, said House Republican Leader David Lust, of Rapid City.
Senate Republican Leader Tim Rave, of Baltic, said he supports preventing the federal government from collecting data on individual students and requiring legislative approval before Common Core could be expanded to subjects beyond math and English.
“I think the logical thing to do, since many schools have it in place, would be to address some of the concerns and just get a handle on it going forward,” Rave said.
House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff, of Yankton, said all lawmakers are interested in hearing ideas to improve Common Core. He’s worried that the standards involve so much paperwork and regulation that teachers hardly have time to teach.
“I don’t think we can necessarily just start over and trash it. I think we’re too deep in now to go back, but we need to make it work the best we can,” Hunhoff said.
Schopp said Gov. Dennis Daugaard has read the new standards, supports them and wants to deal with criticisms so officials can turn their attention to other education issues.
The state’s prior standards were not rigorous enough, and the Common Core standards will help make sure South Dakota’s high school graduates are ready for jobs or further education, she said.
Testing also will show how students compare with those in other states, Schopp said. The first online tests under Common Core will be given this spring but will be used mainly to determine how the test works and whether districts have sufficient Internet capacity and equipment, she said.
Many of the criticisms don’t involve the actual standards but instead focus on a local district’s curriculum or teaching methods, Schopp said. If South Dakota got rid of Common Core, any replacement would still require students to learn the same math and language skills in the same grades, she said.
Worries about Common Core are growing nationwide, Bolin said. He said he’s been fighting Common Core for several years, but other South Dakota lawmakers are joining him.
“I just have a few more allies now,” Bolin said.