Will new classroom goals help or hurt SC students

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Top education advocates aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on a set of teaching standards already being implemented across South Carolina.

In 2010 the state Education Board approved adopting the Common Core Standards, a set of curriculum goals for grades K through 12 set by 48 participating states. Advocates say having the same standards and testing the same things in every state will make it easier to compare educational progress and let students better compete with their international counterpart.
But this week a Senate panel will once again pick up a bill by Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, that would bar the state from implementing the standards, which are set to fully replace the curricula previously set by the Education Board by the 2014-2015 school year.

One member of the board, Michael Brenan, the BB&T South Carolina president, co-authored a guest editorial in The State newspaper Friday with Joe Mack, formerly of the SC Baptist Convention, that argues the new standards would actually lower the bar for students in the Palmetto State.

The pair cited a Pioneer Institute study that indicated that by grade 8, students following the Common Core Standards could be up to two years behind in math compared with previous learning plans.

But their biggest argument was that the change would “dumb down” English classes because South Carolina’s standards are higher. There is also a big concern that under the new plan English teachers would have to spend half of their class time on non-fiction, technical and scientific texts even though language arts teachers are trained to teach rhetoric and composition by helping students learn to analyze literature.

But few South Carolina English teachers are speaking out in agreement. In fact, Kathy Maness, the executive director of the Palmetto State Teacher’s Association, said groups of language arts supervisors from districts across the state have met with Fair to let him know they like the Common Core Standards.

Last year, Fair tried to delay implementing the standards through a budget proviso that failed, but at that point Maness said her organization didn’t know which side to support. But after polling the members she said the teachers of the state overwhelmingly support Common Core Standards.

“The actual teachers in the classrooms like it and think it’s a good move, so I’m not sure where they’re getting this information that it’s going to be hard on English teachers,” Maness said.

This school year is the first transition year and many districts are already using the standards to guide teaching.

A Brookings Institute study released this month found that a switch to Common Core Standards will likely have to impact on educational achievement in the nation. It did find that it may reduce the variation of achievement between states, but not much within states, which is where achievement gaps are big.

The Senate K through 12 education subcommittee will pick up the issue Thursday.

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