Last updated on 2015.02.23
I am now batting .000 as a bill proponent. I came to Pierre this morning to testify in favor House Bill 1223, which would have ended South Dakota's involvement with the Common Core standards and with any "multistate educational standards related to, similar to, or associated with" Common Core. Rep. Chip Campbell (R-35/Rapid City) brought the billon behalf of Common Core opponents, and amidst of all of the conservative activists surrounding me, Rep. Campbell chose me to give HB 1223 the liberal blog kiss of death first.
Leaving my ideology at my chair, I simply told the committee what I've said before about Common Core: state-mandated standards don't make teachers better. They take up time and effort that could be devoted to working directly with students. By eliminating Common Core, legislators could help teachers without spending a penny.
Other proponents of HB 1223 spoke more ideologically, and dare I say more emotionally. Dale Bartscher of the Family Heritage Alliance said HB 1223 reinforces state and family sovereignty. He also said his group was open to an amendment to replace Common Core with other external standards (psst! Dale! Were you listening to me? The point is that any external standards become paperwork exercises in plugging existing good practices into the latest faddish rubric and nomenclature.)
Cindy Peterson of Chamberlain said, "Human children... are not and can never be standard," Peterson said. "Any attempt to standardize learning... is doomed to failure, at the expense of the child." She then read a letter from Lane Larson, a teacher from Pukwana, who wrote that she had been afraid to speak for fear of losing her job. Larson quit teaching because she saw Common Core was not developmentally appropriate for young children.
Mark Chase of the Family Policy Council took the mic to say that a man from Mongolia had told him that Common Core was "what we had under Soviet Communist reign." Common Core, said Chase, is designed to "break your kids down and make them compliant with the State."
Common Core opponent Mary Scheel-Buysse said she has heard teachers complain that Common Core is "working kids like dogs." She said teachers had told her that administrators had forbidden them to do spelling lists with third graders and multiplication drills with fourth graders.
Linda Schauer of South Dakota's Concerned Women for America office quoted George Will to make Common Core sound like the Affordable Care Act: "If you like your curriculum, you can keep it."
For those of you scoring at home, consider that this liberal blog author stood shoulder to shoulder with the Family Heritage Alliance, the Family Policy Council, and the Concerned Women for America. (The word syzygy jumps to mind.)
The education establishment of South Dakota then proceeded to crush us with gusto. If they spoke with notable vehemence, it may come from having dealt with arguments about Common Core one too many times for their taste. Or, as some of my lunch companions observed, maybe it was just arrogance.
Whatever it was, it came hard. Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said a blind survey found over 80% of South Dakota math and language arts teachers say Common Core is appropriate and will increase student achievement. She said if any administrators are banning spelling and multiplication, they aren't following Common Core.
Secretary Schopp also ran this lovely circular argument: since Common Core is in effect, stopping it would cause all sorts of upheaval. State law requires that we have statewide standards, so we'd have to throw ourselves into a fast cycle of developing new standards and tests and retraining teachers. The universities would have to retool all of their teacher education programs. All that change would be bad for teachers and students, so we can't change.
In other words, we can't change the machine because we can't change the machine. And since HB 1223 doesn't offer a new machine, it's bad. Never mind that I'm not convinced we even need a machine.
The Associated School Boards, the Board of Regents, the Superintendents Association, the Education Association, the Large School Group, and the United Schools Association all backed the Secretary. Common Core opponents are acting from unfounded political fears (hmm... where was my political argument?). They are "astounded" at statements likening Common Core and the Soviets (as am I, Mark!). Lobbyist Dianna Miller said most of this opposition comes from the Internet, and "you can post anything on the Internet" (true, and thank goodness for that liberty!). SASD's Rob Monson said that just last weekend he checked his fourth grade son's spelling list, and no Common Core cops busted him (that, Rob, was an awesome rhetorical point).
Before the hearing, even the proponents suspected HB 1223 was headed for quick death. But with no other bills on the House Education agenda, HB 1223 got just over two hours. The indefatigable committee members loaded both sides with questions. Even when they closed questions, they didn't go immediately to death for the bill. Rep. Roger Hunt (R-25/Brandon) offered an amendment to remove the vague "similar to" from Section 2, saying that wording would prevent the state from adopting any standards (which, again, Rep. Hunt, might not be so bad!). That amendment passed, and Rep. Hunt moved "do pass." Rep. Joshua Klumb (R-20/Mount Vernon) said he likes standards, but he's still afraid "the government is coming" and urged folks who don't like Common Core to "seek alternative education" (code, shades of Graves, for "send your kids to private school and homeschool and kill public education!"). Finally fed up with the foolishness, Rep. Tim Johns (R-30/Lead) moved to table HB 1223, which parliamentarily is what you do when you want to shut down the debate and be done.
And we were done... but just by an 8–7 vote. My head counters said it looked more like 11–4 vote before the hearing.
The three Democrats on House Ed all voted to kill HB 1223. Seven Republicans, including Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), who was just here yesterday saying this blog as "no creditability," voted the way I told them to. Apply your Common Core critical thinking skills to that flip.