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Down to the Core

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Lawmakers in Kansas are currently discussing a bill that would end Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculums.

House Bill 2292, also called the Kansas Local Control Act, aims to repeal the current Common Core Standards in place for grades K-12. The change would revert Kansas education back standards set in 2003.

“If this bill were to pass as is, we would go back 12 years in our standards,” Kansas National Education Association Director and lobbyist Mike Dessetti said. “This would mean a retooling of what all the schools are doing. This is an extreme, radical turning back of education in Kansas.”

However, proponents of the bill like Ze’ev Wurman, Senior Adviser at the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development in the U.S. Department of Education, submitted written testimony to the Education Committee for the hearing. He said that the Common Core Standards “tie Kansas’ hands to remote Washington bureaucrats and take away your ability to care for your own children.”

In short, The Local Control Act is the latest addition in a longstanding battle over Common Core, seen before in Kansas, and across the nation. Lawmakers and lobbyists agree that this debate reflects a growing resistance to Common Core which opponents perceive as unwanted federal intervention.

Meanwhile, teachers at East worry about the impact that bills like The Local Control Act could have on students working to compete on a national level.

The Local Control Act would require all non-Kansas curriculum, to be rewritten to align with the reinstated 2003 Kansas standards. Teachers would have to redo all of their current lesson plans and course work, to make it fit with the previous standards. If passed, this would end AP and IB because their curriculum is not locally controlled.

The bill would also induce extra costs for Kansas public schools, according to Kansas House Representative Nancy Lusk, who is on the committee for Federal and Foreign Affairs where The Local Control Act originated. Schools would have to replace all textbooks and materials used in companion with the Common Core Standards.

A possible reason behind the bill, Rep. Lusk says, is a misunderstanding of the Common Core Standards. She says opponents misinterpret what the standards are trying to achieve on a national and state level, stemming from confusion over the difference between “standards” and “curriculum.”

Standards dictate what a student should have learned by the end of a school year. For example, Common Core says that at the end of third grade, all third graders should know how to read. How the schools get to that point, the lesson plans and the instruction, comes from collaboration between school districts, boards and educators — this is the curriculum.

“[Opponents] will claim that the standards are “nationally driven,” and that [they] are a federal takeover,” Rep. Lusk said. “The Common Core Standards do not specify any given curriculum and here in Kansas our local school boards have total control over all of the curriculum used in their districts.”

Dessetti calls the anti-Common Core sentiment a “movement” of people that see Common Core as a federal intervention in education. They see the standards as curriculum-like material being passed on a national level, but Dessetti and Rep. Lusk both emphasize that this thinking is not correct.

Today, 46 states have adopted Common Core, but each state can go beyond them in any way they want. States can’t weaken the framework of the standards, but they can add to them, make them more rigorous or add specifics things the state is interested in.

However, David Dorsey, Senior Education Policy Analyst for the Kansas Policy Institute gave testimony backing the bill, citing that the current Common Core Standards were too challenging, and not achievable by the average student. He also voiced concern about “federal intrusion” on education through the current standards.

Despite the debate between those for and against the bill, the reality of it, according to both Desetti and University of Kansas Director of the Political Science Department, Dr. Burdett Loomis, is that the bill is political, revealing more about Kansas politics than what’s on the surface.

The likelihood of The Local Control Act actually being signed into law, Loomis says, is not necessarily strong. But instead, the bill might be used symbolically to voice concern by Common Core opponents who see it as a threat to state power in regulating education.

“I probably view this as symbolic more than anything else,” Loomis said in an email statement. “The whole [Common Core] ‘debate’…is just politics. I honestly don’t think it would change much on the ground…Without a doubt, however, public education and teachers are under a wide and deep attack, both here in Kansas and across the nation.”

Dessetti believes the bill has a chance to pass out of the Education committee. However, he believes it might be defeated on the House floor after.

The bill had its first hearing before the Kansas House of Representatives committee on Education on Feb. 22. Eventually there will be a separate hearing where the Committee on Education will “work the bill,” according to Rep. Lusk, which means the committee debates it and decides whether or not to pass it. The Local Control Act has yet to have the second hearing, and Rep. Lusk is currently unsure when this will occur.

While analysts are not sure whether or not The Local Control Act will pass here in Kansas, AP American History (APAH) teacher Vicki Arndt-Helgesen still sees the bill as a threat, since it would not be the first time a bill attempting to remove AP curriculum has passed.

Last month, a similar bill created controversy in Oklahoma. The State House of Representatives’ Education Committee passed a bill on Feb. 17 to defund the current APAH course framework, and replace it with a curriculum deemed more “pro-American” by the bill’s sponsor, state representative Dan Fisher. Since then, the Rep. Fisher withdrew the bill calling it “poorly-worded.”

Arndt-Helgesen worries that something similar could happen in Kansas, with bills like these becoming more common. She says the losses that students would face from not having access to AP and IB curriculum would be detrimental.

“My concern would be [that] it’s a way to decrease the accessibility of public education as a rival to private education,” Arndt-Helgesen said. “To students, it would be huge. Not having access to AP or IB would make application to selective schools much more difficult for our students.”

Rep. Lusk says that the bill’s consequence of losing AP and IB curriculum was “unintended,” caught in the middle over the battle to repeal Common Core.

“The authors of the bill were too clueless to realize that the sweeping rejection of Common Core in the bill would have that effect on other things, [like endangering] the ability of school districts to provide AP classes,” Lusk said.

Despite the arguments from supporters of The Local Control Act like Wurman and Dorsey, those that oppose it are looking at a bigger problem than just this one bill. They are looking at an issue deep-rooted in Kansas politics.

“I am hopeful that leadership will just let the bill quietly die this session,” Rep. Lusk said. “Even if the bill goes no further, I don’t expect the controversy to go away in the long run. They may just be biding their time until…they push for a different non-Common Core related set of standards.”

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