S.C. Senators vote against blocking education standards
COLUMBIA -- A Senate panel voted Thursday not to block the implementation in South Carolina of nationwide education standards in math and reading, after educators testified the reversal of already approved standards would hurt students.The subcommittee supported moving ahead with Common Core education standards. However, the Republican-dominated panel didn't want to kill outright the Republican-sponsored measure, so after much confusion, senators voted 7-3 to send it to the full committee for further consideration with an unfavorable recommendation.Senators don't expect it to get any farther.In July 2010, the state Board of Education adopted the standards on what kindergarten through 12th-grade students should learn in the classroom for math and reading, following approval by the Education Oversight Committee made up of business leaders, educators and legislators. The bill by Sen. Mike Fair, a committee member who voted against the standards, would have undone those votes.Forty-four other states have adopted the standards, replacing those that now vary state-to-state.Opponents call it a nationalization of public education and say South Carolina needs to maintain control of what students learn and on what they're tested. Those backing Fair's bill include Gov. Nikki Haley."Please don't cede our local control," said Larry Kobrovsky, a member of the state board and former Charleston County School Board member. "It may not be perfect, but at least we can change things."But educators said it's a state-led effort to improve competitiveness, not a federal mandate.Under the Common Core agreement, states can add 15 percent to the base standards, but those extra things aren't included on high-stakes tests used for determining student performance under accountability laws.Though full implementation is set for 2014-15, many teachers around the state already are using the standards in their classrooms. Educators say it will allow a true measure of how South Carolina students perform compared to other states, and that students who move from one state to the other won't be playing catch-up to their peers. Opponents testified last week that the new standards will be costly.A spokesman for Superintendent Mick Zais said Thursday the cost for testing students will likely go up in 2014-15, primarily because the new, computer-based testing requires technology upgrades in schools. The agency is surveying districts' technology capabilities, Jay Ragley said.Zais opposed the Common Core standards on the campaign trail, but since taking office has said it's his duty to implement the law, unless legislators reverse it.The state school board recently voted to join the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and use its online tests for the new math and reading standards, expected to cost $9 million - a much cheaper option than the state developing its own tests or using some sort of combination.Joining the consortium also means South Carolina educators will have input into the tests as they're developed, said Gerrita Postlewait, former chairwoman of the state board.She contends the state can also maintain control in how standards are taught. "The cost becomes uncertain because of technology upgrades, but those are upgrades we want for all of our districts for reasons beyond assessment," Postlewait said. "There is a much bigger discussion going on about the role of the federal government in education, but this is state-driven initiative. There are a lot of advantages to there being national standards."The state currently spends $14 million on student testing in reading, math, writing, science and social studies. Students will continue to take state-standardized tests in the latter two subjects.Sen. John Matthews, a retired principal, said the issue is not the cost."The cost is if we don't do it and become one or two states out of line with the rest of the nation," said Matthews, D-Bowman. "We have to compete with America and the world. It makes good sense to align our students to the rest of the nation so when our students go somewhere, they can go in the door with the same standards. The quicker we get on with it, the better."