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A close call for Common Core

Legislature should leave educating to educators

By The Mercury

We’d ought to be delighted that the Kansas Legislature rejected a proposal to halt the implementation of Common Core education standards in Kansas public schools. Instead, we’re relieved, and worried that the level of support the issue received means the standards are not yet safe.

In the frenzied finish of the 2013 Legislature, the Kansas Senate voted 24-12 to block the new multi-state reading, language arts and math standards. Fortunately, the House defeated them, but by just three votes, 58-55.

Had the measure passed, it would have undone the work of the Kansas Board of Education, which approved Common Core in 2010, as well as implementation efforts under way in school districts all across Kansas.

Another casualty would have been new multi-state science standards — a political lightning rod — that Kansas educators played a leadership role in developing.

As troubling as the near defeat of Common Core was, it’s matched by the Legislature’s attempt to micro-manage education. Conservative lawmakers felt the need to intervene even after Diane DeBacker, Kansas commissioner of education, told them that every school district in the state had begun introducing Common Core — hiring teachers, acquiring materials and adjusting their curricula.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Abrams, an Arkansas City conservative and former Kansas Board of Education member, argued that the state Constitution charges the Legislature not just with funding public education but with providing for its improvement. Then, ignoring multiple court rulings on the Legislature’s inadequate funding of public schools and oblivious to irony, he declared, “There’s nothing more important that the Legislature does than education.”

Common Core is a well regarded approach to education, one that has been adopted by all but five states. Its standards, which encourage critical thinking, emphasize student readiness for college and careers in both English and math.

And far from being mandated by Washington, D.C., — or worse, by the Obama administration — as some Kansas legislators seem to believe, Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers. What’s more, this state’s adoption of them helped Kansas get a waiver from the unnecessarily frustrating No Child Left Behind Act.

Legislators who sought to block Common Core weren’t motivated by the desire to improve public education in Kansas. Rather, for ideological reasons, they sought to extend their control over public schools by undermining the authority of the state Board of Education, the elected body charged by the state Constitution with setting educational policies.

Fortunately, legislators failed. Unfortunately, they’ll probably try again.

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