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A common battle for Common Core

2/23/2014

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

A Kansas House Education Committee is considering legislation that would bar use of the Common Core standards adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education in 2010.

A similar bill was introduced and failed last year.

Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, Hays High School science department chairwoman, was among those who gave testimony at a hearing on the bill last week.

More than 70 signed up to give testimony on both sides of the issue, she said.

The room was packed before the hearing began.

"Security cleared the room and only re-admitted those signed up to speak," she said.

Testimony alternated between those who support maintaining the Common Core standards and those opposed.

Those testifying included representatives from the Kansas State Department of Education, Kansas Association of School Boards, school administrators and teachers.

As far as she knows, Shepherd-Adams said she was the only representative of Hays USD 489 who testified. She testified on behalf of the Next Generation Science Standards.

One person spoke out against NGSS, but most of the testimony centered on the Common Core issue.

Ellis USD 388 Superintendent Bob Young is a proponent of the standards, "or in the Kansas case, the Kansas College and Career Readiness Standards, which is actually a tweaked model of the Common Core."

Young said opponents have turned the standards into a political issue.

"Some who proclaim to be experts haven't even read the bill," he said. "How can you propose a bill to abolish something that you have no knowledge of?"

Much of the confusion stems from the difference between standards and curriculum.

"A standard is a set of rules," Young said. "We would like all kids to know that two plus two equals four. How we teach our children that two plus two equals four, that's curriculum."

Common Core is a nationwide set of guidelines he equated to speed limits on interstates and airport security.

"No one has called to say this is what you've got to be teaching next year," Young said. "We have total control over what we're teaching next year."

Shepherd-Adams was one of approximately 50 committee members in Kansas who developed the NGSS for the state.

"We made sure that the document reflects Kansas," she said.

NGSS was adopted in April and is being implemented gradually.

"I think they're going to be better for kids," Shepherd-Adams said. "They're going to help them compete in the global economy as opposed to filling out bubbles in a test. These standards really encourage kids to think deeply about a topic."

The old standards are "rote memorized data to be regenerated on an assessment," Young said. "Common Core means you have to prove to me that you can use this information to exist in this society."

Hays High math teachers studied the Kansas standards for more than a year before developing a plan to implement them, Hays High math teacher Lisa Colwell said.

"The idea behind the standards was to help all teachers in all schools from all of the states that adopted the standards, to agree upon what skills and concepts should be included in a student's mathematical education," she said.

Colwell, who's been teaching for 32 years, said the standards remind her of when she began her career.

"In the new standards, there is a greater emphasis on analyzing functions and identifying similarities and differences, along with developing mathematical models to solve problems," Colwell said.

"I think it's time we look at a different path," Young said. "I'm not going to say Common Core is 100-percent right, but it is a step off the trodden path that just maybe it might work if people will give it a chance."