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Some state lawmakers caution against ending Common Core

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By Joel Ebert 
The Charleston Daily Mail

Attempts to repeal Common Core once Republicans take control of the state Legislature could be detrimental to the state, say several departing Democratic lawmakers.

“Republicans want to dismantle what is in place and that will truly set West Virginia students back,” said state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha. Wells served as vice-chairman of the education committee during the 2014 session but was defeated by Republican Ed Gaunch on Nov. 4.

A number of Republican lawmakers, including state Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, recently told the Daily Mail they intend to reintroduce legislation seeking to place a two-year moratorium on the implementation of Common Core assessments, prohibit the state Board of Education from sharing personally identifying information of students and teachers and created a study committee.

“It worries me because there has been no real effort on the part of Republicans, such as Sen. Boley, to really understand what is going on in education today,” he said. “Their lack of knowledge and reliance on fear tactics are only going to hurt the students of West Virginia.”

Wells said many Republican lawmakers have not fully understood Common Core and choose to ignore the facts.

“Common Core, in a nutshell, is a set of standards that the feds want us to reach. How we actually reach those standards is all left to states and local entities as they see fit,” he said.

Common Core was created in 2009 through a partnership of governors and state school officials who wanted to replace the outdated and strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education supported the standards and, with the help of President Barack Obama, offered $4.3 million in Race to the Top competitive grants and NCLB waivers to adopting states. More than 40 initially signed on.

West Virginia educators created their own version of Common Core, called the Next Generation Content Standards, which were fully implemented this fall.

Wells said the state needs to take drastic steps to improve education, but that does not include repealing Common Core.

Delegate Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said any attempt to repeal Common Core would not make any sense given that state lawmakers never actually voted on it in the first place.

“The Legislature did not take action and does not typically take action on curriculum for public schools,” she said. “They can’t repeal something they didn’t enact.”

Poling served as chairwoman of the education committee during the 2014 session but did not run for reelection. She will exit her seat at the end of the year.

Poling said the authority to develop curriculum has generally been left up to the state Department of Education.

“The idea of national standards isn’t something new,” Poling said.

The implementation of Common Core is similar to math standards that were adopted and used in West Virginia in the 1970s, Poling said, when she was a high school math teacher.

“I believe standards are certainly necessary and have been in place in West Virginia from the time I first started teaching in 1967.”

While some, including Boley, have called Common Core a federalization of education, Poling said the state’s Next Generation standards included involvement from West Virginia’s teachers. 

She said any attempt to repeal or replace Common Core needs to come with ideas on what should replace it.

“There have to be some standards,” Poling said.

Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, agreed with Poling, saying she would not support any attempts to remove Common Core standards unless there was an adequate replacement.

“Until we have a good solid alternative I wouldn’t support that,” she said. Pasdon will serve as the next chairwoman of the House education committee.

Content standards are a necessary way to measure students’ achievements with their peers, said Chris Stadelman, communications director for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. “The West Virginia Department of Education’s Next Generation Standards are part of a collective effort by teachers across the state, representing all grade levels, and other state education experts with one goal in mind — putting West Virginia’s students first. We must continue to invest in our future by providing our children with the best education possible.”

Boley, who is set to become vice-chairwoman of the Senate education committee, recently told the Daily Mail that she would like to see the state adopt old standards used by Massachusetts.

Pasdon said although the Common Core standards were not introduced in the best way and there are some things that need to be altered, she still supports the standards.

“I would like to see the standards improved and changed,” she said, adding new ideas need to be considered. “We all need to be open minded.”

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, a 30-year teacher, said although some teachers are frustrated with the amount of paperwork they have to fill out because of Common Core, there are beneficial aspects.

“The curriculum that is laid out is way better than it was in past,” he said. Edgell served on the education committee during the 2014 session but lost to Republican Kent Leonhardt during the primary election.

Edgell said he has encouraged Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, who will be chairman of the Senate education committee, to talk to educators who have been teaching for the last 15 years to get a better understanding of the effects of Common Core. He also cautioned any attempt to eliminate Common Core would be a mistake.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, who served as vice chairman of the House education committee during the last session, agreed.

“It would be very costly to turn back,” he said.

Delegate Adam Young, D-Nicholas, a high school social studies teacher, said there hasn’t been enough time to assess the positives and negatives associated with Common Core but he is looking forward to hearing more about the subject during a two-hour interim education meeting scheduled for Dec. 16.

“We don’t have a good understanding and base of knowledge right now,” Young said.

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, chairman of the Senate education committee, supports the latest efforts to discuss Common Core.

“I think slowing it down and looking at it is not a problem,” he said.

Plymale said he was hoping to discuss the subject earlier in the year. “But I lost that battle to the House and Senate president,” he said.