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Beware Common Core lite in S.C.

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Dillon Jones

On several recent occasions you may have heard pundits or public officials claim that South Carolina has gotten rid of Common Core.

The implication is that the state has retaken power from the federal government over education policy. There’s some truth in that, and it’s certainly encouraging to see some state officials moving in that direction, but to claim South Carolina has regained sovereignty over its academic standards would be – unfortunately – far from the truth.

It’s true that the Legislature passed a bill that that, among other things, requires South Carolina to begin reviewing its current English and math standards – currently Common Core – by Jan. 1, 2015. The bill also specifies that “the new college and career readiness state content standards” must be implemented in the following 2015-16 school year. And it’s true that the State Department of Education, for the next few months led by Superintendent Mick Zais, has strongly indicated that the new standards won’t simply be a “rebranding” of our current Common Core standards.

Unfortunately, though, the department doesn’t have sole power over academic standards in the state. As long as we have an education superintendent elected by the whole state, the department should have that power, but currently it does not. So, even if the department ends up writing totally different standards, the standards will still need approval from the Education Oversight Committee and the State Board of Education – both of which have signaled a mushy non-committal attitude to Common Core.

Moreover, to fully understand why Common Core opponents should remain cautious, it’s important to remember why the federalized standards regime was adopted in South Carolina in the first place – money. South Carolina, like the vast majority of other states, adopted the standards to have a better chance at getting Race to the Top grants from the federal government, which South Carolina applied for but never received, and getting waivers from some regulations of the No Child Left Behind Act. South Carolina receives hundreds of millions of federal dollars by remaining in compliance of NCLB. A big part of the criteria to receive these federal funds and waivers was to have a common set of college and career ready academic standards – which at the time, Common Core was the only set that met that criteria.

Bear in mind that under the new law the new standards must still be “college and career ready” – which means they still need to be compliant with what the federal government deems “college and career ready” to receive funding, waivers, etc.

Here’s the truth: South Carolina was bribed into adopting Common Core by the federal government. And whether South Carolina’s future academic standards look like Common Core will likely be determined by whether or not the state continues its dependence on federal funding.

It took a lot of effort from grassroots opponents of Common Core to finally get the ball rolling on getting different academic standards. If it weren’t for their efforts, lawmakers would have done nothing. But they didn’t fight this hard just to get Common Core “Lite.” The bigger battle in getting rid of Common Core was to regain state control over academic standards – not to just to alter the standards a little, or to get a new set of federally approved standards.

Common Core opponents now have a new bigger battle to wage – the battle against federal dependency. Until states kick their addiction to federal cash, academic standards and education policy in general will be – to put it plainly – dictated by the federal government.

Dillon Jones is a policy analyst at the S.C. Policy Council. For details, visit scpolicycouncil.org.