New House Ed Chair: Time running out on standards compromise

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New House Ed Chair: Time running out on standards compromise
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

The new chairman of the House Education Committee says legislation to further change West Virginia’s K-12 learning standards isn’t inevitable, but time is running out for lawmakers, the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education to come to an agreement to avoid such a bill.

“I certainly don’t want to close the door,” Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, told the Gazette-Mail. The next legislative session begins Wednesday.

When asked if he or other lawmakers desire particular changes — something State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano has long asked to hear from those who oppose the standards — Espinosa said he doesn’t want to “micromanage” the department or state school board to develop specific standards.

He reiterated that though Martirano says West Virginia’s new standards are not Common Core, they have much language identical to Common Core. He said he’s continued to receive emails and calls from constituents who complain they are a “rebranding” of Common Core.

“They look essentially just like the Common Core standards with relatively few cosmetic changes,” Espinosa said. He said there were positive changes made.

When asked why he’s opposed to Common Core standards, a national standards blueprint that has been adopted by more than 40 states, he said his main concern is that many West Virginians oppose the standards, and he’s representing those constituents.

Last week, House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, named Espinosa the new House Education leader, replacing former delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, who resigned at the end of last year citing health reasons.

Dave Sypolt, R-Preston and returning chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he’s still gathering information on the state’s new standards before deciding whether they move far enough away from Common Core. He said he’ll also need to speak with the committee to see whether there is support for standards legislation, noting there wasn’t enough support for repeal last year from Senate Republicans.

Last month, the state school board voted to replace, effective next school year, West Virginia’s Common Core-based math and English language arts standards with new education requirements. The revisions came after lawmakers, including Espinosa, failed in their effort to repeal the standards during the last session. A repeal bill passed the House 76-20 but died on the last night of the session when the House refused to agree with the Senate version, which would’ve instead required a review of the standards.

Despite the repeal bill failing, Martirano launched a special online “Academic Spotlight” review of the standards and eight town hall meetings on the issue across the state.

That review allowed the public from early July until Sept. 30 to comment online on any of the more than 900 standards. It garnered more than 240,000 online comments from more than 5,000 individuals. More than 90 percent of the comments supported the standards and, although the website accepted comments from anyone over 18, self-identified West Virginia K-12 teachers were responsible for 91 percent of the comments.

“Content review teams,” made up of 48 educators, reviewed the comments during two two-day sessions, focusing on the top five most-disagreed-with standards in each grade level or course, and recommended changes. Education department officials said they then used the feedback to draft the standards changes, although the department didn’t include every revision the content review teams suggested and made some changes they didn’t propose.

Some of the changes that came out of the standards review include the requirement to teach cursive, and some higher-grade math standards were moved to different courses. But the standards that emerged from that review process — and the additional changes made following the final, normal 30-day public comment period required before new standards and other state school board policies are adopted — do retain much of the same wording, down to the same examples and similar ordering, that are in Common Core. Martirano, however, has repeatedly said the new standards are no longer Common Core, and has responded to the similarities by arguing that what students need to learn can only be stated in limited ways.

When asked why he didn’t feel like the review conducted was enough, Espinosa expressed concern with the process, noting he attended a Shepherdstown town hall where attendees could only write down their questions on pieces of paper to have a panel of individuals respond, without opportunity for back-and-forth response.

He said he’s interested in developing a group “of all interested parties” to review the standards, including looking at what’s been done in other states that have ditched Common Core.

Before the state adopted its new standards, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he preferred to leave Common Core in place for a few years.

State school board President Mike Green said Thursday that West Virginia has already repealed the Common Core standards, but said he’s always open “to listen to any suggestions and recommendations if they’re specific.”

When asked whether he’d support a general review, he said: “I’m not going to agree to do anything now that we just did.”