Common Core reviews crisscross Legislature

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lawmakers in Mississippi’s House of Representatives are next up to tackle the immediate future of Common Core State Standards, with stark differences in opinions being the lone certainty.

On Wednesday, state senators passed Senate Bill 2161 creating a 27-member commission to recommend new academic standards for public schools. Thirteen senators voted to dump Common Core altogether this year — an unsuccessful effort but indicative of emotions running high on the issue.

“We’ll receive the bill, and I imagine a heated battle will ensue,” state Rep. Alex Monsour said. Entering the current session, the two-term Republican legislator favored some form of change to Common Core, but offered no specifics on what he’d support if the topic comes up in the House this week.

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Passage of the bill came nearly two weeks after House Bill 385 was passed. It would end the use of a Common Core-related test, end high school exit exams in biology and U.S. history and direct the state Department of Education to adopt tests used by the ACT organization. Senators have not yet acted on the bill, which counted Monsour and state Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg, among its supporters.

Mississippi is among 44 states that have adopted the standards, which seek to instill analytical thought into all subjects. Besides purely political criticism from the usual anti-government suspects, such as tea party groups, parents and teachers suggest the curriculum applies that too broadly, particularly in mathematics.

If senators’ version survives, the commission would be a mix of teachers and various experts from all levels of education to be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House Speaker. MDE could either accept or reject any recommendations.

It’s a structure that was logical enough for state Sen. Briggs Hopson III, R-Vicksburg, who was among 31 senators who voted for the measure. He was among 37 senators who voted against an amendment that would have blocked MDE from keeping Common Core in any form even had a commission recommended doing so.

“It’s best for the state,” Hopson said of how the process is structured in the bill. “We can come back and pass a law that does those things recommended.”

Denton, like Monsour and Hopson, is not on either education committee in their respective chambers. Hearing the good and bad has Denton fine with giving teachers as much time as possible to grasp the standards so it can be taught more effectively.

“We haven’t allowed enough time for teachers to teach Common Core,” Denton said. “From what I’m hearing from teachers, it’s not a bad thing. There’s just not enough time to teach the teachers how to teach the children.”

In Mississippi, the Common Core standards are called the Mississippi College- and Career-Ready Standards. State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright has favored keeping the standards.

Aligned in some shape or form against Common Core include Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who’ve opposed it on grounds it’s more federal intrusion into the state’s schools. State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, the tea party firebrand who last year narrowly lost his party’s nod for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s seat, supported ditching the standards and voted present on having the commission. Voting present on any bill counts neither for nor against the tally.

Denton, like Hopson, expressed confidence in any system that gives MDE the freest hand possible in determining the state’s curriculum.

“Whatever MDE comes up with, it’s got to be taught,” Denton said.