The Wichita Republican pushing for the state to repeal Common Core says the national education standards for math and English are out of step with Kansas values and promote pornography.
A representative of the largest teachers’ group in Kansas called that absurd.
Opponents of Common Core lobbied Kansas lawmakers to repeal the standards at an intense hearing Monday at the Capitol. They cited concerns about student data collection, “one size fits all” teaching methods and the role of the federal government in pushing the standards.
Several educators spoke in favor of the standards, which were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010 and have been implemented by districts statewide. They warned that repeal would be misguided, send school districts into upheaval and put Kansas students behind their peers in other states.
Rep. Joseph Scapa, R-Wichita, the bill’s sponsor, did not testify during the hearing. But on Monday evening, he explained his rationale for introducing the bill.
“Common Core is full of so many things that don’t align with our Kansas values,” Scapa said. “For example, the English standards: The suggested reading lists are full of pornography. The standards themselves, in my opinion, are not rigorous.”
Asked which books he found pornographic, he cited “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize-winning author.
Scapa pulled up a post on an anti-Common Core blog about “The Bluest Eye,” which included excerpts from the book dealing with sexuality. Scapa said he hasn’t read the whole book.
“I looked at enough of the book that I didn’t want to read any more,” Scapa said.
“I think that’s dirty,” Scapa said, pointing to an explicit passage. “I just don’t think you want 10th-grade boys – in some classes they read this out loud – reading this out loud. It causes problems. It gives them ideas.”
Mark Desetti, legislative director of the Kansas National Education Association, said there’s always controversy over literature.
“Remember, at one time ‘The Scarlet Letter’ was considered pornography in our schools,” he said. “Almost any book they’ll find a reason to object to it. Somebody will.”
Desetti said Common Core does not require schools to teach specific texts. Rather, it lists skills that students are supposed to acquire by a certain grade level. School districts still may determine which books to use.
“There’s not a reading list that says, ‘These are the books that you must read to get there.’ The standards are simply, as was said today, where we want our kids to be at a given point in their educational career, and that doesn’t require any specific book,” Desetti said. “Curriculum is still in the hands of the local school district.”
Scapa also complained that Common Core does not include the U.S. Constitution as a required text.
The Common Core standards specifically deal with mathematics and English rather than history, although Scapa disputed that. Desetti said that even if standards don’t specifically mention the Constitution, schools would still cover it, as there would be no way to teach U.S. history without doing so.
House Bill 2292 would compel the Kansas Board of Education to rescind “any requirement, agreement or waiver … with the United States department of education or any other federal agency” that is conditional on the adoption of a Common Core-aligned curriculum. It would prohibit the state board from agreeing to future federal funding conditional on Common Core alignment.
The Common Core standards were developed by the National Governors Association and adopted voluntarily by states. The U.S. Department of Education has promoted them and offered incentives based on them.
Although opponents of the standards frequently raised concerns about the federal government’s role in pushing them, they also lodged specific criticisms about the standards.
Jeffrey Locke, a teacher for Satanta, said that Common Core ignores that kids should be taught as individuals and restricts teachers’ creativity.
“Common Core with its ‘one size fits all’ ties our hands and makes us teach to a test system, which never ignites them, never makes them grow so they’ll be life-long learners,” he said of students.
Lisa Huesers, a parent from Leawood, raised concerns about the amount of data collected for Common Core-aligned tests.
“Present Kansas law does not ensure the right of the parent to protect against the collection of their child’s data,” Huesers said. “This is not only an invasion of privacy but a theft of the child’s intellectual property.”
The bill’s opponents told lawmakers to be cautious before scuttling the standards.
Tammy Bartels, president of the Kansas Parent-Teacher Association, called the bill irresponsible and unnecessary. She said it would force schools to scuttle five years of hard work in implementing the standards, based on a “false belief that the college and career-ready standards are a federal government takeover.”
Deena Horst, a member of the State Board of Education, warned that restoring the state’s old standards would be costly and would align the state with a test that no longer exists.
Rick Doll, the superintendent of Lawrence schools, said passing the bill would gut districts’ current educational programs. He contended that concerns about implementation could be handled in other ways than a repeal.
“You don’t kill a mouse with a shotgun,” he said.
Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he had no plans to pass the bill out of committee this week. He said each side raised valid concerns, and he observed that some districts appear to have implemented the standards more effectively than others.