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Topeka While testing officials at Kansas University are busy developing new reading and math assessments for students to take this year, one northeast Kansas lawmaker is trying to halt the project in its tracks.
Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, acknowledged this week that he is the main proponent behind House Bill 2621, which would nullify the Common Core reading and math standards in Kansas, along with the recently adopted Next Generation Science Standards, and prohibit school districts from administering any tests that are aligned to those standards.
“The Common Core standards, I do believe, are not addressing the problems of the children,” Dove said. “When NCLB (No Child Left Behind) came along, that told me that individuals were teaching to the test. Now it seems the Common Core is just a replication of that in another format.”
Dove, whose district includes portions of the Tonganoxie, DeSoto and Basehor-Linwood school districts, serves on the House Education Committee, which will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday.
In addition to abolishing the new standards, it would also set up a 19-member Advisory Council on Curriculum Content Standards within the State Department of Education — with members appointed by the governor, legislative leaders, the Kansas Board of Regents, and the State Board of Education — that would have a direct role in developing future standards in all content areas.
Dove said it's not the standards themselves that worry him. In fact, he said, “I haven't seen the actual content of the Common Core.”
“However, I do not believe it is within the scope of our federal government to put something together when it comes to education,” Dove continued.
Questions of federal role
The idea that both the Common Core standards and the Next Generation Science Standards were the result of federal mandates is one of the most common misconceptions about them. Both sets of standards were, in fact, cooperative efforts initiated by states themselves.
Still, organized opposition groups in many states, including Kansas, have argued that since their inception, the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Education have pressured states into adopting them by making adoption of the standards a condition for receiving certain kinds of grants, or waivers from No Child Left Behind.
Officials in Kansas, however, say that's not what happened here.
“In my opinion, it's these folks who are totally anti-Common Core, anti-President Obama, that are just attempting to destroy what all has been done,” said state board member Carolyn Campbell, a Topeka Democrat whose district includes Lawrence. “Since 2010 when it was approved, our teachers, our educators, our superintendents, they all have supported the Common Core, and this legislature is totally ignoring the positive” aspects of the standards.
Sen. Anthony Hensley of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, went even further.
“It's coming from people that think black helicopters are hovering over the Kansas Statehouse,” Hensley said. “So now there's a conspiracy to take away their children's right to an education, and I just think it's completely misplaced in terms of what's good for our public school system.”
Hensley, who teaches high school social studies in the Topeka school district, said he believes most teachers and school administrators in the state also support the standards.
“And usually, teachers are the ones that are most skeptical about new things that come down the track, but in this case they are fully supportive of the Common Core standards,” he said.
Political support may be lacking
Republican leaders in the Legislature said the bill to nullify the Common Core may have little chance of passing this year.
Sen. Steve Abrams, a former state board of education member who now chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the bill would have to pass out of the House and be sent to the Senate because he sees no independent effort in the upper chamber to pass such a measure.
And House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stillwell, said the bill could have a hard time passing the House.
“I don't know if this year it's got enough votes to come out of committee,” Merrick said during a news conference Friday. “The longer that thing doesn't come to a vote, the less opportunity it's going to be to change anything.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers face another obstacle if they hope to block schools from administering new tests aligned to the Common Core: the calendar.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, the testing "window" when schools can start giving the tests begins March 10.