Common Core talks continue in Legislature

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Common Core talks continue in Legislature
By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter

While education officials in Charleston solidify their opposition to legislation that would repeal Common Core, one state school board member said he agrees with many concerns outlined in the bill and hopes the Department of Education will work with lawmakers on finding a middle ground.

Tom Campbell told the Daily Mail on Friday that a wholesale repeal of the controversial education standards would be disruptive to the classroom, but admitted major changes are needed to correct issues plaguing the state’s education system.

“If that means Common Core has to go, that’s fine with me,” said the former Democratic delegate from Greenbrier County.

Common Core is a set of math and English standards that guarantees public school students across the country get the same basic education. After they were introduced in 2009, more than 40 states adopted the standards, but they have become increasingly unpopular each year, especially with conservatives who claim they usurp state sovereignty over public education.

The repeal bill, which passed the House of Delegates on Saturday in a 75-19 vote, would prohibit use of Common Core and the state’s subsequent Next Generation Content Standards, adopted in 2010 and 2011, respectively. It also would restrict student assessments and require the Department of Education to develop a new set of standards with the help of teachers, parents, other education officials and specially appointed legislators.

State Superintendent Michael Martirano has said there will be “significant consequences” for students and teachers if the standards are repealed, and while Campbell agrees in part, he said working together would be more productive and potentially lead to a compromise.

Campbell isn’t sure that can or will happen though.

“I’m afraid everyone is getting in their corner of the ring to duke it out,” he said, later adding that students often get lost in the fray.

“My biggest frustration with the school board is that the focus, in my opinion, isn’t nearly enough on the wellbeing of our students.”

Campbell went on to say that the Department of Education is “very powerful and very condescending” and that it “does what it wants.”

The fight over Common Core may be more complicated and can likely be attributed to a lack of communication between the state’s chief educators and lawmakers.

Department of Education officials are frustrated with legislators, who they claim have not included them in conversations on the bill. This lack of involvement prompted school board members to call an emergency meeting on Friday and issue a proclamation detailing their willingness to meet with legislators to voice their concerns — chief among them being the cost of repealing and developing new standards after already investing millions into Common Core over the past four years.

The Department of Education estimates that carrying out the mandates of House Bill 2934 would cost $168 million, an amount legislators claim has been exaggerated.

While department officials are upset they have not had a chance to speak on the House floor, one delegate said the department has had plenty of time to convince the Legislature of Common Core’s merit in light of the state’s continued poor achievement scores.

“We’ve asked them many times to explain why the state should stay the course,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Amanda Pasdon. “They’ve been given months to explain why the standards should stay in place, and they haven’t been able to articulate their argument.”

Until recently, the Monongalia Republican has been silent on whether she would support repealing the standards. Pasdon, who chairs the House Education Committee and therefore decides what education bills move to the floor, told the Daily Mail in December that she would not endorse a repeal bill unless “a good solid alternative” set of standards were proposed.

Last month, Pasdon said public outcry forced her to take action. She introduced the bill last week and it was immediately pushed through committee.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which introduced it Sunday.

Campbell admits he holds the minority opinion, but said a repeal is likely and that board members must reach out to legislators before it’s too late.

“We need to hear them (legislators) and work with them,” he said. “My concern is that the action the board has taken is the opposite.”

What that means for the future of Common Core in West Virginia, Campbell isn’t sure, though he said a full-scale review with legislators to determine how to revise and adapt the standards could be an alternative to repeal.

The standards used in West Virginia — the Next Generation Content Standards — already were revised and adapted from Common Core. According to the state Department of Education, only about 20 to 27 percent of those standards differ from the state’s old standards, which likely would be used as a replacement until a new set is developed so the state doesn’t risk forfeiting more than $360 million in federal funding.

Should the Legislature’s attempt to get rid of the standards prove successful, West Virginia also could lose its waiver to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and fail to meet requirements of No Child Left Behind, which could result in the U.S. Department of Education intervening and imposing sanctions.

While repealing Common Core has mostly been pushed by Republicans in the Legislature, members of the minority party have recently lent their support. Saturday’s vote was bipartisan. Earlier in February, an all-Democrat sponsored repeal bill also was introduced.

While Pasdon said she is confident the bill will pass the Senate sometime in the next week, it would still require Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s signature before getting passed into law. While Tomblin’s office has not indicated whether he would sign or veto the bill, a spokesman said the governor supports the direction the school board and Department of Education are taking.

Should Tomblin veto the bill, the Legislature, which is overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, would then have the option to override the governor and pass the bill into law without his approval, which would make West Virginia only the fourth state to repeal the standards.

Senate Majority Whip Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, however, said that there are reservations within the party regarding a repeal.

“I do not believe that there is a strong desire in our caucus or the other caucus to push the issue,” he said Sunday.

Still, Campbell said the bill is a wake up call and that education officials in Building 6 should pay attention.

“If we won’t make changes, the Legislature will make them for us.”