Kanawha school board candidates want to fight Common Core

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By Mackenzie Mays 
The Charleston Gazette

Several Kanawha County school board candidates are promising to fight against the state’s implementation of Common Core Standards if they are elected, but it’s not that easy.

Nearly every state in the country has adopted the standards, which pledge to focus on more meaningful, real-world applications to prepare students for college and a career.

Indiana is the only state to totally opt out, with critics fearing a national education standard that they say could mean curriculum dictated by the federal government and a lower bar for students.

Common Core officials say the standards will allow fairer state-by-state comparisons.

Other states have voiced displeasure with Common Core, but opting out is a lengthy process that requires legislation and also means states will have to come up with a new set of standards that are just as challenging — or else risk losing federal funding.

If an individual school district attempted to opt out it could be even more complicated, according to Robert Hull, an associate superintendent with the West Virginia Department of Education.

“All instruction in West Virginia schools is to be based on state-approved content standards or in the absence of such standards, there must be district-approved standards,” Hull said. “The only way a district could not follow state-approved content standards would be to ask for a state board [of education] waiver to use otherwise developed standards.”

The chances of the state approving a waiver for Kanawha County Schools to break away from Common Core, though, are “very slim,” said Missy Ruddle, an assistant superintendent for Kanawha County.

“We might be able to write a wavier for certain materials at a county level and take it to the state and they might approve that because they’ve given us more local control but I just don’t think they’re going to back off completely,” Ruddle said. “Is it national standards? Yeah, it probably is. But when you actually look at it, I don’t think you can argue with them. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

That misinformation is a major concern for educators, Ruddle said. She’s seen parents speak out against Common Core on social media, pointing to math worksheets that Kanawha County Schools has been using for several years that have little to do with the shift to the new standards.

She’s heard from parents who believe Common Core is government-mandated curriculum that is forcing students to solve basic math problems using unnecessarily complicated methods.

But teachers still have the power to choose how they teach and what materials they use to guide lessons, Ruddle said. They just have to base those lessons off of new standards.

“I think they’re confused about Common Core. I think they think we’re telling teachers exactly what they have to teach and how they have to teach, and we’re not. We want teachers to continue to use their own resources, we just want them to follow the basic standards,” Ruddle said.

“Common Core is just standards. We don’t tell any of our teachers in Kanawha County that they have to teach a certain way. The only thing we’re asking [teachers] to do is to have kids focus on problem-solving and think deeper.”

The biggest change students and families should see is on standardized tests, Ruddle said, which will have a bigger focus on problem solving and require students to show the steps they took.

All seven of the Kanawha County school board candidates voiced concern about some aspect of Common Core implementation in a meeting with Gazette editors, though some were more passionate than others.

School board candidate Vic Sprouse has already written a resolution against Common Core that he says will be the first thing he passes if elected.

The resolution says that Kanawha County Schools will not implement Common Core without a full vote of the county Board of Education and urges the state Legislature to “stand with the people of West Virginia in opposition to any further actions that would assist in the implementation of Common Core standards.”

Sprouse’s resolution also states that the standards violate the county school board’s constitutional rights and accuses the Obama administration of trying to federalize the public school system.

School board candidate Calvin McKinney has campaigned against Common Core’s math standards, which integrate several different types of math, saying “I believe instruction is extremely important so I don’t see how anyone can say our students receive a better education under Common Core.”

School Board President Pete Thaw, who seeks re-election, has also vowed to fight against the implementation, citing too much government oversight.

“When the federal government gets into our education in Kanawha County, we’ve got a problem ... We’ve got to say we’re going to have our local education and we’re not going to partake in this federal institution. We’re going to fight it every way we can, or we should,” Thaw said.