South Carolina became the second state to drop the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) last week after Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill calling for the state to develop its own educational standards. But many schools in the state had already begun implementing Common Core standards — and they were getting positive results.
The bill allows schools to continue with the Common Core standards for one year but requires the state’s Department of Education and independent, non-partisan Education Oversight Committee to work on a new set of standards for the 2015–2016 school year. It comes two months after Indiana dropped the Common Core, citing lack of control over the standards though drafts of the Indiana standards copied the standards word for word.
South Carolina began implementation of the Common Core in 2010, and since then, schools ranked at the “at risk” level, meaning low performance results, have been declining. In a survey of school districts by the Education Oversight Committee, responses were positive from the just under half of school districts that had already begun implementation. Those districts enroll around 70 percent of public school students in the state.
Dr. Shawn Clark, the director of curriculum and instruction at Saluda County Schools, told ThinkProgress that she noticed a huge change in students once her district began implementing the Common Core standards. “I saw our children were thinking more critically,” Clark said, who taught for six years before becoming an administrator at Saluda Middle School for over a decade.
Last year, 90 percent of 8th graders in the Saluda district passed the writing test, with around half of them receiving an “exemplary” rating. Clark said this was almost unheard of, especially in a relatively poor area that didn’t spend much on hiring outside consultants to train teachers on the Common Core.
The South Carolina bill asserts that assessments formed with the new standards should be able to compare “performance of students in South Carolina to other students’ performance on comparable standards in other states.” But that’s arguably what Common Core would do best, and what it was designed to do — set common, consistent guidelines across every state. It was this inter-state collaboration that Clark liked best. She was able to share curriculum ideas with educators in New York through the Common Core, and she said different standards no longer made sense in the globalized world.
South Carolina’s new standards may not end up being very different from the Common Core’s anyway, according to Clark. (The old standards weren’t all that different from Common Core either.) She said South Carolina’s standards will likely just be “renamed,” with a few additions like adding cursive and multiplication table memorization to the standards. She hopes legislators won’t completely change the standards, which she said would be a “colossal waste of finance and time.”
Clark said she wasn’t surprised about the passage of the anti-Common Core bill, which she attributes to pure politics. “This was more about state’s rights than students’ best interests,” she said. “Here in South Carolina, some people are turned off of anything that has a federal label on it.”
Meanwhile, eliminating the Common Core could cost the state. It has already invested a fair amount of money into teacher training programs to align with the standards, and any changes could present added costs. In Louisiana, replacing the Common Core would cost $25.2 million over the next five years, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. In Indiana, estimates of the costs of implementing the state’s alternative to Common Core ranged from $32.5 million to $125 million.