Panel votes to kill Common Core academic standards

PHOENIX -- With foes blaming them for everything from the use of a sexually graphic book in one high school to making automatons of Arizona children, a Senate panel voted to kill the Common Core academic standards.

The 5-2 vote on HB 2190 came only after Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, stripped out a provision from the House-passed legislation that essentially would have stripped the state Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor, of any role in adopting new standards and instead given that entirely to a new committee of parents, teachers and others. Instead, the committee will have more of an advisory role.

But the legislation, crafted by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, is not yet out of the political woods.

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said she voted for the measure solely to get it to the full Senate. But Yee said there still are a number of objectionable provisions in the plan that was approved by the House.

Most notably, Yee said the legislation prohibits Arizona from looking to what other states have adopted if those standards came from an outside organization.

"This would prevent a standards development team from going forward with something that's good from another state, even if it was developed by a third party,' she complained. "We need to have an open mind when we're looking at development.'

Thursday's vote came after 4 1/2 hours of testimony from supporters and foes of the standards that the state Board of Education adopted in 2010.

"My students are enjoying math more than ever now,' said Dayna Burke, a first grade teacher in the Sahuarita school district. Burke said Common Core means she is teaching them how math works.

"It is not simply showing them strategies with no rationale behind the learning,' she said.

And Mike Huckins, lobbyist for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said repeal of the standards will lead to lower academic achievement.

But Brad McQueen, a fifth-grade teacher in the Tanque Verde school district, had his own take on the standards -- and why the business group would support them.

"It has everything to do with centralizing power over our kids' minds, away from our parents and into the waiting hands of big government and big business,' he said. McQueen, author of the book "The Cult of Common Core,' said these groups want to "use our K-12 education system as their very own human resource departments to shape future workers to suit their needs.'

But Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, said what was missing from the objections were specific problems with the standards. He grilled Finchem on whether the first-term lawmaker had actually read the Common Core standards.

"I have taken a great deal of feedback from teachers, from standards' writers, from parents,' Finchem responded. Finchem said he has read "some of the standards' but instead is responding to concerns by constituents who are "absolutely outraged that this kind of a program made it into our education system.'

Bradley pressed forward, asking Finchem to cite problems with the standards.

"I am not an expert in standards,' Finchem responded, offering up McQueen instead.

One objection he did have is to the use of the book "Dreaming in Cuban' in a 10th grade literature class at Buena High School in Sierra Vista which includes a brief but graphic sex scene.

"When parents are confronted with that, they know there is a breakdown in the education system because it's presenting garbage, in the words of the parent, to kids who have impressionable minds who are working on trying to learn,' Finchem said.

He said they would be better off reading "A Tale of Two Cities,' or some other novel.

But former state schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan said that has absolutely nothing to do with the standards which are things students are expected to know at certain points in their education. And she said if parents have a problem with a book -- which is part of the curriculum -- they should take it up with the school or the local board rather than destroy what she believes are valid academic standards.

Keegan said people are lashing out at Common Core "because it's scary.'

"We have to fight against that,' she said. And Keegan said that nothing in Arizona's use of the Common Core standards which were developed by a consortium of states requires this state to remain in lock-step with those others or precludes Arizona from making its own adaptations.

That brought a sharp retort from Ward who challenged Keegan to name one change the state Board of Education has made since the standards were adopted.

Keegan said those are issues the board is reviewing now.

Several of those who testified in support of the standards said it would cost millions of dollars for Arizona to scrap them now and start over. That argument did not impress Finchem.

"If you're going down a path and you realize it's taking you away from the city you're trying to get to, are you going to keep going down the path?' he asked.

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.

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