CHARLESTON — Advocates for Common Core standards say that the educational changes are bold and necessary for the nation’s students to be successful in competing with students around the world.

Opponents, however, say the standards are nothing more than federal overreach into a state and local jurisdiction, which does not provide the educational requirements essential for student success.

The Joint Standing Committee on Education heard from both sides Tuesday morning as a part of the West Virginia Legislature’s December interim session. Otha Thornton, president of the National Parent Teacher Association, said Common Core is “critical and altering opportunities for every child.”

Thornton enumerated what she called the myths being spread about Common Core, noting that “Common Core gives every child the opportunity to achieve at the highest levels.”

• Myth 1: Common Core is a national curriculum that will “dumb down” our kids. Instead, Thornton said, the standards provide a “clear expectation of what children need for college or a career.

• Myth 2: Common Core expands standardized testing. Thornton said the initiative will help parents and teachers determine the academic needs of students.

• Myth 3: States are not leading this effort. “The federal government has not taken over the system,” Thornton said. “I think it’s time to address the rampant misinformation parents are hearing,” Thornton said. “(The) concerns are not related to standards, but to issues surrounding the implementation (of Common Core).

“We have a moral obligation,” he continued. “We promise every child when they receive a diploma it actually means something. It means they are ready for college and don’t have to take remedial classes.”

Those remedial classes have tuition costs, but no credits, he said. Furthermore students enrolled in those classes have a greater likelihood of failure in college, he said. “West Virginia has a lot at stake,” Thornton said. Ranked 46th in the nation by Kids Count, an annual report on the well-being of the nation’s children, West Virginia spends about $14,700 per pupil, he said. Thornton said for him, the proof of Common Core is in the implementation. Neighboring Kentucky has data that shows Common Core is improving standards for its students, and while test scores initially dipped, 62 percent of students in Kentucky are now college ready, he said.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas, took the opposite stand on Common Core. Stotsky said the standards aren’t getting kudos from the people most likely to be affected by them after students — higher education faculty.  “West Virginia has a lot to worry about, “ Stotsky said.

“It’s on the verge of an economic boom, but it has adopted these standards that will take it back to the 19th century. There’s no pathway to STEM.”

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has been lauded as the wave of the future for education and employment in the country. The STEM Education Coalition says that “Our nation’s future economic prosperity is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields.”

Stotsky said also that Common Core does not address equity issues, meaning that schools in affluent districts will be able to offer more STEM classes than schools in poorer districts. Thornton did say that West Virginia’s old standards closely mirrored the Common Core, meaning that the state would not see extreme changes in standards.

Lawmakers made no decisions about Common Core, but will likely take up the issue in the next legislative session which begins Jan. 14.

Pam Pritt is a reporter for the (Beckley) Register-Herald.

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