South Carolina’s top education leader on mission to uproot Common Core

July 14, 2014

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Ben Velderman Ben Velderman

Ben was a communications specialist for EAG from 2010 until August 2014. He is a former member of the Michigan Education Association.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina’s top education official is nearing the end of his term, and he’s determined to use every bit of power he has to undo the Common Core experiment before he leaves office in January.

When Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill into law on May 30 that requires the state to replace the Common Core standards with “new” ones, it was viewed as somewhat of a public relations stunt. Many observers believed the law would largely preserve the nationalized math and English standards, with a few cosmetic changes here and there.zais2

“The end result will likely be standards that look very similar to Common Core, with some tweaking,” TheState.com predicted in mid-June.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has other plans, however.

As head of South Carolina’s Department of Education, Zais is responsible for overseeing the process for revising the learning standards, which determine what concepts are taught at each grade level.

Since lawmakers requested new standards, that’s exactly what Zais intends on giving them.

To accomplish that goal, Zais recently announced that the teams of educators tasked with revising the standards will use the state’s 2007 standards as a starting point, not Common Core.

Zais is also going to instruct the standards-writing teams – which will meet for the first time in late July or early August – to look at the education standards used by other states, such as Texas, that haven’t adopted Common Core.

“We’re not going to repackage (Common Core). We’re not going to rebrand. We’re not going to tweak the Common Core … and we’re not even going to have a copy of Common Core state standards in the room for the writing panels,” Zais told TheState.com.

Zais’ decision has some pro-Common Core lawmakers and education officials worried that the “repeal” bill – intended merely to pacify the anti-Common Core masses – will backfire and result in a true overhaul.

“(State law) doesn’t say they (Common Core standards) will be scrapped and thrown away,” State Board of Education chairman Barry Bolen told TheState.com. “Our goal is to get the best. If that means blending the existing standards, which are Common Core, with other standards that are more rigorous,” that’s what the state should do.

But Zais argues the new law directs him to write new standards, and that goal can’t be achieved by starting with Common Core, TheState.com reports.

Zais is well-positioned to prevail in this argument, as he’s the one charged with putting the new law into effect.

Still, final approval of the new standards – which must be in place for the start of the 2015-16 school year – rests with the state Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee.

“Zais hopes to have a draft finalized in December and ready to send to the state Board of Education for the first of several approvals in January, when the next schools superintendent takes office,” TheState.com reports.

That leaves Zais and the re-write committees a very small window in which to write all-new standards – a process that normally takes a couple of years.

Still, Zais is a man on a mission. He clearly wants to make the removal of Common Core part of his legacy.

If fortune really does favor the bold, then don’t bet against him.

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