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Editorial: State should keep ‘common’ standards

The Detroit News

The fight in Michigan over who should call the shots on education is on display in the Legislature. One prominent issue that continues to capture the attention of lawmakers is the state’s adoption of the Common Core nearly seven years ago. At its heart, this is a battle over local control of schools.

Many Republicans in Lansing have long bristled over the content standards that the State Board of Education agreed to adopt in 2010. The Common Core was developed by a consortium of states and offers grade level content expectations in English Language Arts and math. All but four states initially signed on, but a growing number are bowing out, and many more are considering it. At least nine states have left.

We don’t blame states for changing course. While many education reform groups, business leaders and prominent politicians have strongly supported the Common Core, what started as a states-led effort got usurped by the federal government. The Obama administration ultimately tied relief from the education benchmarks under the now-replaced No Child Left Behind law to states adopting the content standards. And the feds helped fund the standardized tests aligned with Common Core.

Some of the GOP pushback is related to the content itself, yet much of the distaste comes from the perceived stranglehold of the former administration over state education decisions.

That’s a valid concern. And many Michigan Republicans took office tasked by their constituents to do away with the Common Core. This happened on the State Board, too, which Democrats firmly controlled for years. Former state Rep. Tom McMillin and Nikki Snyder, a nurse, both ran on platforms opposing the core and they won, unseating board president John Austin. They are now encouraging the Legislature to reverse course.

Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, has introduced a bill this session that would repeal the standards and instead implement the ones Massachusetts had prior to that state’s adoption of the Common Core. This isn’t a new idea. Sen. Patrick Colbeck had similar legislation last session.

Massachusetts is held as the gold standard for schools, and much of its success started well before the Common Core, so Michigan lawmakers believe it serves a good model.

“Michigan students deserve the best standards, proven by actual test results,” Glenn said in a statement. “And ultimately, our own local school boards and educational leaders — not the federal government — know what’s best for Michigan students.”

The House’s Michigan Competitiveness Committee, chaired by Speaker Pro Tem Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, held a hearing on this issue Wednesday. Chatfield has supported repealing the standards.

But lawmakers must consider the costs of backing away from the Common Core. Schools have already implemented the standards and they have shaped teaching, curriculum and state tests. All that would have to change. The House Fiscal Agency says it would cost the state at least $27 million, but likely more. Other estimates put the cost as high as $300 million.

Changing the new M-STEP test, which is based on the Common Core and is only three years old, would also make it difficult to measure progress (or lack thereof) in classrooms and districts.

Michigan needs consistency. Schools can’t be expected to meet wildly changing targets.

Lawmakers should take solace in having Betsy DeVos as the new federal education chief. Even though she was an early proponent of the Common Core, she has also maintained her support of state control of schools.

The Legislature is right to want Michigan students meeting the best goals, but a complete overhaul would likely do more harm than good.