PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to do what schools chief Diane Douglas has so far been unable to do — kill the Common Core academic standards and any tests associated with them.
The House Education Committee voted 5-2 along party lines to block the state Board of Education from implementing the standards developed in part by the National Governors Association.
The Republican-backed HB 2190 also makes it illegal for the board to adopt standards for college and career readiness that are “substantially similar to standards or assessments used by 20 or more other states.”
The legislation says efforts to implement Common Core, adopted by the board in 2010, “are void on the effective date in this section,” and anything new adopted by the state board can’t take effect until approved by the Legislature.
By the same margin, the committee also approved another measure that could undermine not only Common Core, but any future statewide assessment.
HB 2246, sponsored by Rep. John Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, would let parents opt out of having their children take any sort of statewide assessment. Ackerley, a high school physics teacher, said he’s not against any specific test but wants to affirm the rights of parents to make that choice.
And the full House voted 35-22 Wednesday for HB 2180, which would require the state Board of Education to create multiple alternatives to the AzMERIT test linked to Common Core — and allow local school boards to choose something other than that test.
Wednesday’s action comes as Douglas, who backed off on efforts to fire two Board of Education employees who were implementing the board-approved Common Core standards, put the board on notice the pair “will be permitted to interact only socially” with employees of the Department of Education, which Douglas controls.
“They will not be permitted to discuss any policy issues with or make any direct requests of non-board Department of Education staff,” an attorney representing Douglas wrote.
The move to quash Common Core is being led by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.
“There seems to be some confusion about what local control is,” he told colleagues. “Local control is state control. Under Common Core, state control has been usurped by the federal government.”
Finchem also said Common Core has resulted in lower standards than what existed before.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said Finchem is lashing out at the wrong things.
He said Common Core deals with standards for what students are expected to know at various points in their education. Bolding said Finchem is objecting to the curricula, including the books used, items controlled by local school boards.
Heather Kays, who lobbies for the Heartland Institute, called that an “argument of semantics.”
“If you are going to dictate what students need to know, that means you are defining what they will be taught,” said Kays, whose national organization opposes Common Core. “And these specific set of standards actually do outline specific methods that need to be used to arrive at the specific answer.”
But Amanda McAdams, the 2011 Arizona “teacher of the year,” said the materials used are determined by staff at the school.
McAdams, who said she has three school-age children, acknowledged there may be some frustration by parents, as their children find their work and homework more difficult because of Common Core.
“Kids will struggle,” said McAdams, who teaches sophomore English at Apollo High School in Glendale. But she said the standards have resulted in students learning more.
Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, however, said the result of Common Core is that parents are less involved.
“I want the parents to be able to help with homework,” he said. “They can’t because they don’t know what’s going on.”
Brad McQueen, a fifth-grade teacher in the Tanque Verde school district, said the problem with Common Core is the standards were not developed and controlled by Arizonans. McQueen, author of the book “The Cult of Common Core,” said HB 2190 “returns everything Common Core took away from our state.”
But Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said that’s not necessarily good. The problem with the old standards, he said, is they really didn’t prepare students for college. Coleman, a former teacher, said that has resulted in universities and community colleges having to offer remedial courses for Arizona high school graduates.
But Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he thinks the focus has been too much on preparing students for college and career and not enough on “who they are as individuals.”
Coleman also worried that the restrictions in HB 2190 would preclude Arizona from some common-sense goals, like saying first-graders should learn their numbers, simply because 20 other states have the same standards. But he agreed to go along with other Republicans to have further discussion of the issue.
HB 2190 also drew opposition from Garrick Taylor, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“The current standards are working,” he told lawmakers. And he said it would be a waste of money to scrap the Common Core standards four years after they were approved and now start coming up with something else.