Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Education commissioner to respond to Kansas GOP resolution on Common Core standards

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker plans to send what she described as a “friendly” letter to the state Republican Party this week, correcting what she and other education leaders are calling misinformation that the party is circulating about the Common Core standards for reading and math.

That letter will be in response to a resolution that the Kansas GOP state committee adopted last weekend calling for Kansas to withdraw from the Common Core Standards.

“We saw the resolution about education in Kansas,” DeBacker said following today's State Board of Education meeting, where that resolution was a major topic of discussion. “We'll try to clear up some of the myths and some of the false information. But really it will be to say let's sit down and talk about this.”

The standards were initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School officers. They have been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, and are intended to raise academic expectations so students will be prepared for either college or the workforce by the time they graduate high school.

The resolution, however, says that the Common Core “implicates the states in an unconstitutional and illegal transfer of power to the federal government and unaccountable private interests.”

It also says they were adopted in Kansas “without meaningful input from” Kansas parents, teachers and other taxpayers.”

“That's absolutely not the case,” DeBacker said.

The resolution also asserts that the new state tests that go along with the standards, known as the Smarter Balanced assessments, will impose “burdensome new testing requirements,” and that they will require “collection and sharing of massive amounts of personal student data.”

DeBacker said the state board adopted the standards in 2010 after more than two years of public discussion, including input from Kansas teachers. She also said students will be tested the same number of times as they are now, and that there will be no more data collected about students than what the state collects already.

State GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold said he wasn't familiar with all the details of the resolution. He said it was proposed by a number of state committee members and adopted by a vote of the state committee during a meeting last weekend.

“Personally, as a chairman, I'm continuing to talk to individuals from both sides of the issue to get a deeper understanding of the Common Core,” Arnold said. “It really just became a hot topic this last year.”

DeBacker said she would send the letter on behalf of the Department of Education. But the board itself, which is made up mostly of Republicans, many of whom support the Common Core standards, opted not to get involved in a political battle with the state party.

“To me, it's a political thing. I'm part of the Republican Party,” said board Vice Chairwoman Sally Cauble, of Liberal. “I'm kind of having trouble with how they even voted on this.”

Board member Deena Horst, a former Republican state legislator from Salina, agreed.

“I'm perfectly fine with the department addressing the misconceptions, and I just think they need to be addressed,” Horst said. “I think politically, there's a division we all know about, and that's what this is.”