Capital News: Common Core further dividing Ohio Statehouse Republicans

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- The last thing Statehouse Republicans need right now is another wedge issue to further separate conservative conservatives and moderate conservatives.

There's already an uproar over Medicaid, with Gov. John Kasich and some GOP lawmakers hoping to expand coverage and many, many other Republican lawmakers who are blocking the attempt.

Tea Party groups have put the former on notice that they'll field candidates against Medicaid backers in next year's primary and drop support in the general election because of the stance.

And then along comes Common Core, which is either the Obamacare of education or the kick in the pants our schoolchildren need to make sure they're ready for the working world, depending on your perspective.

The basic idea is to adopt more rigorous standards in the classroom that are uniform nationally so that every kid who graduates from high school has the foundational knowledge they need to excel in college or technical training or wherever they end up.

Ohio adopted Common Core several years back, as have more than 40 other states.

Opposition

Enter Tea Party and like-minded groups. They're concerned that Common core takes control of what's taught in schools away from state and local officials and places it in the care of outside corporate and federal government interests.

"By essentially nationalizing the standards, the ability for parents, teachers and local school boards to control academic content and testing is ceded to groups [outside the state]," state Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta) told the House Education Committee last week. "Local school districts must have the freedom to adopt educational curricula that best suits their students. They're constrained by mandatory federal assessments and what they will measure."

Opponents also say Common Core is untested, likely will cost more than projections suggest and could set Ohio students behind in their studies.

Thompson has introduced legislation to repeal Common Core standards in Ohio, prohibit the state board of education from using assessments based on those standards and block the dissemination of certain student data to the federal government.

He offered sponsor testimony on the bill last week, but it's unclear how many more opportunities critics will get to offer their opinion publicly, since Rep. Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster), who serves as chairman of the House Education Committee, said he does not think there is support to move the bill.

He's also among the opponents of the legislation, saying the Common Core standards are solid and superior to what's been in place.

"I don't support the bill," he said. "I think it's a step forward and six steps back. We go back to before 2007 if we back out of this, but he's entitled to a hearing."

He added later, "[Opponents] try to portray this as some kind of vast conspiracy of the federal government and international conspirators to dumb down American education and make us less competitive as opposed to what it is."

Support

Common Core proponents say teachers, administrators and the state school board have had a deliberative process, open to the public, as they've moved toward implementing Common Core.

They say districts still have discretion in picking their curriculums. And they say Common Core offers a more rigorous alternative to what's been in place in Ohio schools.

"To Ohio business leaders, it is dismaying that a controversy has suddenly arisen about the Common Core, because the standards it recommends are so basic to life -- and success -- in America, and it is equally clear that kids who fail to obtain this knowledge will not be able to participate fully in our economy or in our democratic society," Richard Stoff, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Business Roundtable, wrote in a recent letter of support for Common Core. "… Ohio overwhelmingly adopted and began implementing the Common Core three years ago as part of its new learning standards. Teachers and administrators vigorously support these standards and are working hard to implement them. Ohio must not go backwards, losing time and wasting tax dollars that have gone into readying our schools to produce improved results for students."

But there are many, many other people who aren't buying it and are vocally siding with Thompson, ready to voice their support for tossing Common Core.

"We need to ask serious questions about Common Core and understand its implications," Thompson said, adding later, "Imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach that centralizes authority is not in the best interests of our young people in our state. Children are not all the same, but Common Core treats them as if they are."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief.

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