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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

John Richard Schrock: Say goodbye to local control of our schools

By John Richard Schrock

Not one TV camera was present. Newspapers didn't carry the news. But it was a decision with more ramifications for Kansas schoolchildren than the evolution-creation debates of 1999 or 2005, or the recent funding cuts.

On Oct. 12, the State Board of Education made Kansas the 38th state to adopt the Common Core State Standards in math and language arts.

Board member Sally Cauble made the motion, with a second by Carolyn L. Wims-Campbell, that the state board adopt the Common Core standards, including the Kansas additions to the standards referred to as the state 15 percent option. Members Sue Storm, Kathy Martin, Jana Shaver, Janet Waugh and David Dennis provided more than enough votes to pass the measure 7-1. Only Walt Chappell was present to oppose the motion.

States adopting the Common Core are to implement a student assessment system aligned with the core beginning in the 2014-15 school year. More than $350 million has been allotted to various groups to develop the tests to provide a "common yardstick." Several board members who voted for the Common Core expressed a desire to keep the local test agent. But the current administration has signaled a clear intention to continue to tie Title I money to adoption of common assessments.

Several board members have stated that they would not adopt the Common Core in science and social studies that is under construction. Reasons are fairly clear: to avoid the disruption of the creation-evolution debates as well as the embarrassing skirmishes currently occurring in Texas over the portrayal of Muslims in social studies textbooks.

Nevertheless, as long as federal education dollars remain tied to requirements for a common curriculum and nationwide assessment, states must buckle and join, or lose big money. With 41 states now adopting the math-English core, there is no reason to believe that states will resist nationalizing the rest of the school curriculum.

The next steps will be setting up a governing board to oversee standards and assessments, updating the standards every five to 10 years, and setting up a governing body supporting state implementation. Clearly, the oversight of this national curriculum will be decided at a national level.

Other national education groups are pressing forward with a national teacher assessment for measuring all teacher education with a common yardstick, the same mentality that has driven the national curriculum. A cookie-cutter curriculum requires cookie-cutter teachers.

In Kansas, where "local control" is every board member's middle name — and in an election cycle where anything federal was thrown out — it is astounding how easily nearly 40 states have rolled over and meekly handed the core of their educational jurisdiction to national bodies.

The past decade has seen state and local school boards spending more and more time implementing federal No Child Left Behind mandates. Now that Kansas has adopted Common Core standards, the state and local school boards will have even fewer policy decisions to make.

John Richard Schrock of Emporia trains biology teachers.

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