Calling them a federal “dictate,” Sen. Al Melvin convinced Republican colleagues in the Senate to vote Tuesday to scrap the Common Core education standards the state and schools adopted just four years earlier.
The legislation crafted by the Tucson Republican prohibits the state Board of Education from doing anything more to implement the standards that are designed to spell out what students should be learning at all stages of their education. It also means those schools which have put them in place are going to have to dump them.
SB 1310 also requires the state to withdraw from the multi-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is developing the testing to see if students have learned what they need.
Melvin, pressed during floor debate Tuesday for what in the Common Core standards he does not like, provided no answer.
“I leave it to you to find them,” he told Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson. Instead, Melvin said he was simply reflecting what he said is the will of a majority of Arizonans who said they do not want Common Core.
“We can do a better job at the state level than the federal government dictating standards,” Melvin said.
But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said Melvin is off-base in saying these standards are federal mandates. He said they were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, “Republican and Democratic governors coming together to look at how we are going to advance our education system throughout our entire country.” That includes current Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
In the end, with what appears to be party-line GOP support to scrap the standards, it may fall to Brewer to save them. In fact, in an unusual move, the governor is warning lawmakers to back off or face a possible veto.
“Gov. Brewer would have serious concerns with any legislation that endorses mediocrity by lowering the expectations for Arizona students,” gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder told Capitol Media Services.
The essence of Common Core is to lay out particular skills students are supposed to acquire at set points during their education. That includes assessing 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.
For high schoolers, that means scrapping the AIMS test – short for Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards -- that has been used as a graduation requirement.
That's also been the position of the business community, which supports Common Core and has lobbied, unsuccessfully, to prevent the standards from being scrapped.
None of that convinced Melvin, who is hoping to be the Republican nominee for governor this year. He cited testimony against the plan last month at the Senate Education Committee.
“Many citizens, I think the majority, have fundamental problems with Common Core and its implementation in the state and believe that we, as a state, can do a far better job in this area than the federal government dictating to us,” he said.
Melvin rebuffed Bradley's call for specifics. He also was not convinced that the standards should be left alone given the millions of dollars schools have spent in the last four years implementing them, saying that would amount to “good money being spent after bad.”
If Common Core is scrapped, that leaves it to the state Board of Education to once again come up with some locally crafted standards. It then would require state school officials to use the Scholastic Aptitude Test to determine whether high schoolers have learned what they should to graduate.
Melvin also was unmoved by testimony last month from various business and economic development groups warning that taking Arizona out of the national standards would make it difficult to lure firms to relocate here. Asked specifically about business opposition, he would say only, “I would assume some elements of the community are, and some aren't.”
In signing legislation to scrap AIMS last year, Brewer said the change “will ensure that Arizona students are measured against the most rigorous standards, holding schools accountable and providing parents a better yardstick for how their children stack up against competing students nationally and around the world.”
Brewer has tried before to blunt opposition which appears to be based largely on concerns that what is taught in Arizona schools is being dictated by Washington. She even renamed Common Core to Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards.
None of that has helped, but Wilder said his boss remains steadfast in her support for the standards, saying they “simply state the skills and abilities necessary for students to succeed after graduating from high school.”