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Cole says Common Core has failed, should be repealed

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Cole says Common Core has failed, should be repealed
By Samuel Speciale, Staff Writer , Charleston Gazette-Mail

A day after revoking an agreement regarding West Virginia’s involvement in developing Common Core, Senate President Bill Cole said the controversial standards have been a failure and that the state must change course if it wants to improve student achievement.

While he wouldn’t say Common Core is the cause of West Virginia’s education woes, the Mercer County Republican said public education’s continued failure is “unacceptable.” Despite being one of the nation’s top per-pupil spenders, public school students in West Virginia perennially rank at the bottom of national achievement listings.

“I don’t want to get down in the weeds,” Cole said. “But Common Core has had its opportunity. It’s had its chance, and we’re still at the bottom.”

In a joint letter he and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, sent to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Cole rescinded an agreement, signed by former Gov. Joe Manchin and then-Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, that committed West Virginia to a “state-led process to develop Common Core standards.”

While the letter is little more than a symbolic gesture, as Cole stated in a press release on Tuesday, he said it signals the Legislature’s commitment to repeal Common Core and eliminate its aligned student assessments, which were used for the first time this year. Testing data is not yet available, and school officials have said they won’t know if students are improving under Common Core until at least next year.

Common Core is a series of grade-level expectations in math and English that guarantee public school students across the country get the same basic education. Developed in 2009 by a collection of states and vetted by West Virginia educators, Common Core has come under fire in recent years as Republicans and Tea Party members have alleged the standards are a federal usurpation of schools.

“At the end of the day, this is one more example of big government telling us what’s best,” Cole said.State Republicans have attempted to repeal the standards, which were renamed the Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives in West Virginia. They have taken the issue to the courts and have attempted legislative action, but have not yet had success.

Last week, Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, asked the state Supreme Court to decide if West Virginia’s use of the standards violates state law and the U.S. Constitution. He said their use in West Virginia and in 45 other states forms an illegal “interstate compact,” something that requires Congressional approval. Earlier this year, he filed a similar lawsuit in Berkeley County Circuit Court.During the 2015 legislative session, both Senate and House Republican attempted to pass bills that would have made it illegal for the state Department of Education to continue using the standards.

While a bill backed by House Education Chairwoman Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, gained support in both chambers, its immediate repeal of the standards was downgraded to a review before it ultimately failed in a conference committee on the last day of the session.Cole told the Gazette-Mail on Wednesday that some things hadn’t been thought through when that bill was drafted, most notably potential loss of federal funding for not having standards and not suggesting a suitable replacement. He said those issues have been resolved and that future repeal attempts will be more “measured and reasonable.”

But state school officials have said any attempt to repeal the standards would be a major step backwards.“As parents, teachers and community members, we can all agree education standards are essential for our students,” said state Superintendent Michael Martirano. “While I firmly believe the West Virginia Next Generation Standards will promote high achievement within our schools, I also acknowledge there is room to strengthen the standards to ensure that all of our young people are prepared for college and future careers.”

The Department of Education is currently reviewing the standards and have opened them up for public comment. Martirano said anyone who thinks Common Core falls short should participate in the review at www.wvacademicspotlight.statestandards.org.While Martirano claims no one he has talked to has been able to point out a problematic standard, he said the department will address any concern revealed during the review.

While Cole said he applauds the department for independently reviewing the standards, he said it’s too little too late.“If they had done this before, we would be in a different position now,” he said.While maligned by Republicans and Tea Party members in the state, the standards are generally supported by those in the education community.

The Tomblin administration also supports the standards.

A spokesperson said Wednesday that West Virginia’s standards were designed to provide “a great education that is essential to ensuring our state’s continued growth and economic success.”

Cole, who also is running for governor, confirmed Wednesday that repealing Common Core will be discussed during an interim legislative session in September. He also said ousting the standards will be part of his gubernatorial platform.