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Education: County Republicans join effort to block Common Core standards
By Charles Swenson
Sheri Few admits she was late coming to the issue, but she is making up for lost time.
The Kershaw County Republican is leading a fight to block implementation of the Common Core standards in South Carolina schools, first as leader of S.C. Parents Involved in Education and since last week as a candidate for state superintendent of education.
The Common Core standards for English and math have been adopted by 45 states. South Carolina approved them in 2010 and Georgetown County schools have been implementing them since 2012. Next year, curriculum based on the standards will be in place in all grades.
There are bills in the South Carolina legislature to block implementation of Common Core, which was adopted by the state Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee. Few spoke this week to the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club about the standards and is scheduled to return Monday to speak at the Georgetown County Republican’s Women’s Club. Those visits were scheduled before she became a candidate to replace Superintendent Mick Zais, who isn’t running for a second term.
Few started campaigning against the standards a year ago. She believes the issue is drawing enough attention that it makes her a viable candidate in a field with two other Republicans already declared and others expected to run.
Opposition to Common Core has many layers. In the broadest sense, it’s seen as part of a multi-generational effort to indoctrinate children into liberal thinking through federal government intervention in education. One result at the narrowest level is that children are frustrated by methods that aren’t appropriate for their age, in tears and unwilling to go to school, Few said.
Politics aside, Few said the Common Core standards won’t prepare students for college and careers, as they claim. “We’re actually taking a step back,” she said.
Pat DeLeone, a member of the Georgetown County Board of Education, was among the audience of 25 who listened to Few speak to the GOP club. She is a nurse, teacher, parent and grandparent and describes herself as a conservative. “I have really studied these standards,” she said. “I have no problem with them.”
Common Core will lead to a more rigorous curriculum, DeLeone said.
Few likens the move to Common Core to South Carolina’s shift from the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests, or PACT, to the Palmettos Assessment of State Standards, or PASS. “Nobody liked PACT because they were some of the best standards in the country,” Few said. When the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind set goals for performance on state standardized tests, the state adopted a new test with less rigorous standards.
Common Core grew out of an initiative by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Each state adopts its own curriculum, but they will use the same test to measure achievement.
Few disputes the origins of Common Core, saying it was funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that funded the concept. Even though Common Core is not a federal initiative, Few says that the lure of federal money for education is driving states to adopt the standards.
“Common Core is an illegal federal takeover of education,” Few told the Waccamaw Neck Republicans. The county GOP has adopted a resolution opposing Common Core, according to Randy Hollister, the party chairman.
State Sen. Ray Cleary, a Murrells Inlet Republican, serves on the Senate Education Committee. He has met with Few, but has not signed on to the repeal bill.
“I have concerns with Common Core,” Cleary said. But he added, “as somebody who believes in home rule, I have my superintendents for it and my school boards who are for it.”
His concern is that support from educators is driven by the availability of funding. “I’m leaning toward opposing it,” Cleary said, but he plans to gather more information on the issue, something that he said is made difficult because both sides seem to have questionable arguments. “It’s hard to get to the base,” he added.
State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch is a sponsor of the House bill to block Common Core. “My main concern is that not every student fits into the curriculum,” the Murrells Inlet Republican said. “I don’t want teachers teaching to the detriment of our children.”
DeLeone sat quietly through Few’s presentation, but said afterward that some of her statements “were completely untrue.” She took particular issue with the claim that the Common Core will lead to Algebra I being taught in ninth grade rather than eighth grade. “It’s not going to affect eighth-grade algebra at all,” she said.
In fact, Georgetown County wants to move algebra into seventh grade classrooms. “I’m sure she’s a nice lady,” DeLeone said. “There’s no way anyone could object to this.”