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 Thursday to kill the Common Core academic standards.
The 5-2 vote on HB 2190 came only after Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, removed a provision from the House-passed legislation that would have stripped the state Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor, of any role in adopting new standards, giving that task instead to a new committee of parents, teachers and others.
But the legislation, crafted by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, still faces a challenge.
Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said she voted for the measure solely to get it to the full Senate. Yee said there still are a number of objectionable provisions in the plan 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 4ƒ hours of testimony over 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.
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.”
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.”
“I am not an expert in standards,” Finchem said.
One objection he did raise is 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.
Former state schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan said that objection has absolutely nothing to do with the standards, which are things students are expected to know at certain points in their education.
She said if parents have a problem with a book they should take it up with the school or the local board rather than destroy what she believes are valid academic standards.
Keegan said nothing in Arizona’s use of the Common Core standards developed by a consortium of states requires this state to remain in lock-step with the others, or precludes Arizona from making its own adaptations.
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, which didn’t phase 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.