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Common Core name changes, standards remain

PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer ordered her agencies to stop using the term “Common Core’’ when referring to new education standards, in response to hostility from critics over what they see as a federal intrusion.

In an executive order, the governor said she was “reaffirming Arizona’s right to set education policy.” Her order spells out “no standards or curriculum shall be imposed on Arizona by the federal government.”

But it concedes the standards adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010 already are being implemented. And Brewer herself referred to them as Common Core in her State of the State speech and her budget request to the Legislature.

Press aide Andrew Wilder said the order changes nothing except the name, which going forward will be “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.’’

The move comes amid mounting opposition by some, notably tea-party organizations, to what members contend are standards being imposed on Arizona by those outside the state. State Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, one of the foes, said he believes Brewer is trying to blunt the opposition by confusing the issue.

He said people now call state agencies to ask them the status of Common Core standards. With Brewer’s action, he said, callers will be told that Common Core no longer exists, lulling them into believing the new standards have been scrapped .

“This is just changing the window dressing,” said Diane Douglas, a Republican running for state school superintendent. She remains convinced that, whatever the name, the standards being implemented are essentially being forced on Arizona by the federal government.

Douglas acknowledged they actually were adopted by the National Governors Association. But she said federal grant dollars are linked to states agreeing to use them.

Wilder said there is no effort to confuse. Instead, he said the name change will ensure the standards “are better understood by the public.”

Brewer’s move comes just days after state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal suggested ditching the Common Core name because, to some, it connotes a federal takeover .

Huppenthal said he backs the standards, saying they will “raise the bar for our students and better prepare them to succeed as they move on to college or career pathways.’’ But he said there are aspects of Common Core that Arizona may not want to share.

“We do not want our school districts to adopt just any instructional materials with the Common Core stamp without thoroughly vetting the material,’’ Huppenthal said.

Just the name alone has created problems.

“With a certain segment of the population that attends different types of meetings, that name has taken on a life of its own,’’ said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He said that makes it difficult “to really discuss what’s underneath it,’’ which is making sure Arizona students learn what they need to know to succeed.

Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he is pleased to see Brewer’s executive order does not change what the state Board of Education adopted in 2010. He said it’s just that the name continued to get in the way.

“In 20-20 hindsight, we should have just called them ‘Arizona’s Academic Standards,’” he said. And Morrill said if issuing an executive order — and putting a new name on them — is useful, “then good for her.’’

Whatever the name, funding remains an issue.

The governor in January asked legislators to earmark $40 million to help schools implement the Common Core curriculum, along with other education funding priorities.

But lawmakers instead approved only an $82 million lump sum increase in school funding — and not necessarily willingly. That is the amount the state Court of Appeals said a 2000 voter-approved measure requires schools to receive in annual inflation funding, a formula lawmakers ignored for several years to save money.

The essence of Common Core is it lays out the particular skills students are supposed to acquire at set points during their education.

All through the process, the idea is to assess students through tests, administered online, that are aligned with the new curriculum. Since all participating states should be teaching the same thing at the same time, it will allow for direct comparisons.

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