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Education: National standards become issue for local elections

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A statewide push by Republicans to prevent the adoption of national education standards in South Carolina next year could be an issue in the Georgetown County’s nonpartisan school board election this year. County GOP leaders are discussing how far they want to be involved in the races, said Randy Hollister, the county chairman.

“Any role we might play would be on an informational level,” he said. He isn’t sure if the party rules allow endorsements for nonpartisan candidates.

There are four seats up for re-election on the nine-member board: two at-large and those in District 2 and District 7. The District 2 seat, held by Pat DeLeone, includes the south end of Waccamaw Neck through Hagley and the Pawleys Island mainland to the North Causeway.

Sheri Few, a candidate for the state superintendent of education, spoke to the Waccamaw Neck GOP Club last week and to the county Republican Women’s Club this week about efforts to block the Common Core standards. They have been phased in to the state curriculum since 2012 and are due for full implementation next year. They cover math and English.

“I certainly hope you will replace your school board for pushing these faulty standards,” Few told the GOP women.

She began campaigning against Common Core as head of a nonprofit, S.C. Parents Involved in Education. Earlier this month, she decided to run for state education superintendent after the incumbent, Mick Zais, decided not to seek a second term.

Few believes the standards, which have been adopted by 45 states, are flawed as well as representing an expansion of the federal government’s role in education. She also objects to the data collection that is part of the assessment process and to the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in promoting the national standards. Bill Gates also supports the United Nations’ educational goals, she noted.

“This should be a platform for this election,” said Judy Clarke, who chairs the county GOP Women’s Club. A former teacher, her objection to Common Core is, “in my simple opinion, it’s the dumbing down of America.”

DeLeone, who attended last week’s presentation at the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club, disagrees. The Common Core standards are part of the move away from rote learning. “By the time we reach 12th grade, we’re going to see a better student,” she said.

Local school officials also dispute Few’s claim that the promise of money from the federal government has led districts to support Common Core standards. “What money? I haven’t seen any money,” county Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

The district has spent money on computers and infrastructure because the Common Core assessments will be done online. While Dozier said he supports standards, he thinks there are too many assessments. For instance, the state currently gives standardized tests in some subjects to only half the students in eighth grade. The results are supposed to be a sample, but Dozier questioned their usefulness.

“It will be an interesting year with the governor’s race and the superintendent of education,” Dozier said. “Whatever we’re doing this year, we won’t be doing it next year.”

Jim Dumm, the county school board chairman, holds one of the two at-large seats. In almost 20 years on the board, he said he couldn’t recall an election where curriculum played a role.

“When I first ran, facilities were the issue, passing the bond referendum,” he said.

Dumm doesn’t object to the Common Core standards, but said that the real measures of academics are best seen in classrooms rather than in standardized test scores. “Since they were adopted by the states and not by the federal government, I think it has more appeal,” he said.

Common Core standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. South Carolina adopted them in 2010.

Few and other opponents say it was Gates Foundation money that drove the initiative and the federal Race to the Top grants and waivers that prompted states to embrace them. DeLeone says the origins go back even farther, to the Reagan era and the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” that warned of a “rising tide of mediocrity.”

“There are things that everybody in every state should be learning at certain levels,” Dumm said. “Each state can put their own rigor to those Common Core standards.”

If that becomes an issue in the school board election, “I’m willing to have that discussion,” Dumm said.

He has an invitation from the Waccamaw Neck Democrats to speak at their February meeting. Dumm hasn’t heard from the Republicans, but Hollister said he thinks it would be worthwhile to hold a forum on Common Core to hear from both sides of the issue and suggested that is an area where the two parties can work together.

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