Rejecting Common Core – and the Structure that Made It Possible



The first step toward removing Common Core requirements from the South Carolina education system – strangely enough – would have nothing directly to do with Common Core. A bill prefiled for the 2014 legislative session – a bill that doesn’t even mention Common Core – would move the state far closer to rejecting Common Core standards than any explicitly anti-Common Core gesture would. (More on that in a moment.) H.4352 would eliminate the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) and devolve most of its duties to the Department of Education and some to the State Board of Education. Under current law, the EOC assists in, recommends, and supervises implementation of programs for the Education Accountability Act, the law delegating power over standards and assessments. That law is quite explicit:

Any new standards and assessments required to be developed and adopted by the State Board of Education, through the Department of Education for the use as an accountability measure, must be developed and adopted upon the advice and consent of the Education Oversight Committee.

The proposed bill would eliminate this phrase entirely, giving standards approval power solely to the Board of Education through the Department of Education. Moreover, the EOC has the task of reviewing the initial field tests of assessments and, among other things, making sure they’re aligned to state standards. This function would be given to the Department of Education.

So, what does any of this have to do with Common Core?

Common Core State Standards are (apologies for stating the obvious) a set of standards. Currently, state standards must be approved by both the State Board of Education and the EOC – and the Common Core State Standards were approved by both of these entities in 2010. H.4352 would still give the State Board the power of approval of academic standards, but the EOC would no longer exist and the Department of Education would be given a great deal more authority and accountability for the state’s education system – including standards-aligned assessments. South Carolina’s current State Superintendent, Mick Zais, the head of the Department of Education, has publicly voiced his opposition to Common Core. The bill would therefore give the superintendent greater capacity to bring his opposition to bear on current state education policy.

More Accountability = More Parental Influence

Common Core aside, the elimination of the EOC would remove a wall between parents and those who decide the standards and tests for their children. Both the Board of Education and EOC are unaccountable boards – i.e. they’re not directly accountable to taxpaying voters. The boards hold major power over what South Carolinian children learn in school. The Board is appointed by the 16 legislative delegations from the judicial circuits (and one by the governor), and the EOC is a hybrid committee consisting of lawmakers, the governor, and members from the education and business committees who are appointed by lawmakers and the governor. Since very few of the members on these boards are directly voted on by South Carolinians (and even those who are voted on aren’t elected for the sole purpose of making education decisions), citizens have very little influence on – or even a practical way to know about – the decisions these hybrid boards make.

Removing one of these barriers – the EOC – and putting the bulk of its powers in the hands of someone who is elected statewide, the State Superintendent, would give parents and citizens a louder voice and more influence over these education decisions.

But can’t we just ‘nullify’ Common Core?

A bill likely to get much attention during the next legislative session, S.300, would provide that the State Board cannot adopt Common Core State Standards. This bill is in our view a well-intentioned attempt to stop the nationalization of the country’s education system. The great majority of states, including ours, unwisely obliged themselves to adopt this nationalized system in exchange for federal Race to the Top funds and No Child Left Behind waivers. However, for many of the same reasons that “nullifying” ObamaCare wouldn’t eliminate federal and state intrusion into the state health care market, “nullifying” Common Core wouldn’t accomplish the intended goal. Specifically, it would leave decision-making power over standards and assessments in the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats.

But suppose Common Core were somehow “nullified” by the legislature. What would stop the Board and EOC from implementing standards similar to Common Core, or another set of standards being pushed by the federal government? For example, “Next Generation Science Standards” are being implemented in many states, and these standards have many similarities to Common Core State Standards (its website even has a page titled “Connections to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics”). In fact, the state probably would have adopted these science standards if it hadn’t been for a temporary proviso placed in the most recent budget that prohibits the state from funding the implementation, adoption, or promotion of Next Generation State Standards.

But throwing in a one-year proviso is hardly an effective way to stop major changes in state policy. And even if a bill to prohibit Common Core ends up passing, South Carolinians have every reason to ask: Do we really trust the General Assembly to prohibit these types of encroachments every time? Is it wise, in other words, to trust any General Assembly to pass a law prohibiting a set of standards every time the standards morph into a new name or label?

Update on EOC’s Action on Common Core

The EOC has taken no action to undo its original decision to approve Common Core Standards for Mathematics and English-Language Arts. Still, at its most recent meeting on December 9th, the committee decided to keep with the spirit of the aforementioned proviso and not use the Next Generation Science Standards at all. The subcommittee had originally suggested to the committee that the Department of Education may still consider these standards when determining the changes that need to be made to South Carolina’s science standards, but the EOC removed this caveat before voting to refer the science standards back to the Department of Education and State Board for further consideration.

Senator Mike Fair also indicated that he planned on introducing a motion in the next EOC Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee meeting to delay implementation of Common Core for one year. The 2013-14 school year is the last year before the Common Core standards are fully implemented, and the EOC has yet to approve Common Core-aligned tests. The State Board has already approved the use of the federally funded Smarter Balanced assessments, but further approval is needed by the EOC. Given the fact that the EOC would still have to review the initial exams after they’re taken, and the fact that these exams will presumably have to be taken during the upcoming spring semester, it’s difficult to believe that there would be enough time for everything to be tested and evaluated and still have the standards fully implemented by next school year.

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