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Common Core foes suffer through difficult week

(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Common Core opponents took a beating this week when two bills were killed in the Senate followed by a sparsely attended press conference in which one of the Legislature’s most ardent foes of the learning standards was a no-show.

The last remaining bill to get rid of the learning standards, HB2316, passed out of the Senate Education Committee March 20, but its chance of approval from the full Senate is considered unlikely. Five Republicans sided with Democrats to kill all anti-Common Core bills that have made it to the floor. HB2316 prohibits the state from adopting educational standards or curricula mandated by the federal government.

And a press conference meant to rally support for the Common Core opposition turned into a 20-minute history lesson and tirade on the standards from Jennifer Reynolds, a Chandler activist who founded Arizonans Against Common Core, and Diane Douglas, a candidate to challenge Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal in the Republican primary. Among those who didn’t attend was featured guest speaker Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, who has criticized the standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, the test that is under development to align with the standards.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of members. Where they’re at, I don’t know,” Reynolds said after the rally.

Crandell said his absence was the result of a scheduling conflict.

The next Common Core battle will come as lawmakers craft a budget. Appropriation bills from both chambers contained no money designated for a test aligned with the standards. That prompted four business organizations to send a letter to all 90 lawmakers, urging them not to support the bills.

The letter from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Leadership and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council stated the entire education system is weakened if there is no test.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who is on record in full support of the standards, has proposed $13.5 million in new dollars for the test, for which the state Board of Education is preparing to send out a bid.

The business leaders wrote: “We would urge you to resist the temptation to wait to fund an assessment until the state receives vendor bids for its development. The absence or uncertainty of funding could reduce the number of competitive bids, which will limit our choice of vendors and possibly increase the cost. Adopting a high quality assessment is too important to try and cut corners.”

The week began with two bills dying in the Senate on March 17.

SB1395 and SB1396 would have allowed school districts to opt out of Common Core and allow them to develop their own learning standards, but those bills got the same treatment as SB1310, which would have gotten rid of Common Core in Arizona.

All three bills received preliminary approval in the Committee of the Whole and failed on a final floor vote when Republican Sens. Adam Driggs, John McComish, Bob Worsley, Michele Reagan and Steve Pierce broke ranks.

Common Core, a set of math and English standards the state Board of Education adopted in 2010, has pitted Democrats and moderate Republicans against the more conservative wing of the GOP. The standards, known here as the Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, have been adopted in 45 states.

The Republican argument in the debate over SB1395 and SB1396 centered on ceding local control to a nationalization of education while Democrats argued that previous standards don’t match the quality of Common Core.

Crandell said Common Core will lead to complete uniformity in education among the states.

“I would hope that everyone in here take a look because we’re heading down a slippery slope on an assessment that hasn’t even been tested yet,” Crandell said.

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