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Lawmakers move to kill Common Core standards in Arizona

Diane Douglas

Diane Douglas

State lawmakers are moving to do what schools chief Diane Douglas has so far been unable: Kill the Common Core academic standards and any tests associated with them.

The House Education Committee voted 5-2 along party lines, with Republicans in the majority, to block the state Board of Education from implementing the standards developed in part by the National Governors Association. But to make sure Arizona remains alone, HB 2190 also makes it illegal for the board to adopt standards for college and career readiness that are “substantially similar to standards or assessments used by 20 or more other states.”

It also spells out that anything new adopted by the state board can’t take effect until approved by the Legislature.

And to ensure anything happening now is stopped in its tracks, the legislation says the efforts to implement Common Core, adopted by the board in 2010, “are void on the effective date in this section.”

By the same margin, the committee also approved another measure that could undermine not only Common Core but any future statewide assessment.

HB2246, sponsored by Rep. John Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, would let parents opt out of having their offspring take any sort of statewide assessment. Ackerley, a high school physics teacher, said he’s not against any specific test but wants to affirm the rights of parents to make that choice.

And the full House voted 35-22 Wednesday for HB 2180 which would require the state Board of Education to create multiple alternatives to the AzMERIT test linked to Common Core – a test that the board approved to be administered this spring – and, more to the point, to allow local school boards to choose something other than that test.

Wednesday’s action comes as Douglas, stymied so far in her efforts to fire the top two board employees for carrying out board policy to implement Common Core, is now moving to control their activities.

In a letter to the board’s legal counsel Steve Tully, Douglas’ attorney, said that Christine Thompson, the board’s executive director, and Sabrina Vazquez, her assistant, “will be permitted to interact only socially” with employees of the Department of Education.

“They will not be permitted to discuss any policy issues with or make any direct requests of non-board Department of Education staff,” Tully wrote, saying Thompson and Vazquez must deal only with Michael Bradley, Douglas’ chief of staff.

That brought an angry reaction from Mary O’Grady who represents the board.

“This is not workable or justifiable,” she wrote back to Tully. “As public employees, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Vazquez retain rights under the First Amendment, including the right to be free from unequally applied, arbitrary prohibitions on discussion ‘policy issues’ with other people, including employees of the department.”

The measure to quash Common Core is being shepherded through the process by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.

“There seems to be some confusion about what local control is,” he told collegues.

“Local control is state control,” Finchem said. “Under Common Core, state control has been usurped by the federal government.”

Finchem also said Common Core has resulted in lower standards than what existed before.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said Finchem is lashing out at the wrong things.

He said Common Core deals with standards, meaning what students are expected to know at various points in their education. Bolding said Finchem is objecting to the curricula, including the books used, items controlled by local school boards.

Heather Kays, who lobbies for the Heartland Institute, called that an “argument of semantics.”

“If you are going to dictate what students need to know, that means you are defining what they will be taught,” said Kays whose national organization opposes Common Core. “And these specific set of standards actually do outline specific methods that need to be used to arrive at the specific answer.”

But Amanda McAdams, the 2011 Arizona “Teacher of the Year,” said the materials used are determined by staff at the school.

McAdams, who said she has three school-age children, acknowledged the comment made by Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, who complained that parents “do not understand Common Core math.” And she said there may be some frustration by parents as their children find their work and homework more difficult.

“Kids will struggle,” said McAdams who teaches sophomore English at Apollo High School in Glendale. But she said the standards have resulted in students learning more.

Lawrence, however, said the result of Common Core is that parents are less involved.

“I want the parents to be able to help with homework,” he said. “They can’t because they don’t know what’s going on.”

Brad McQueen, a fifth grade teacher in the Tanque Verde school district, said the problem with Common Core is that the standards were not developed and controlled Arizonans. McQueen, author of a book, “The Cult of Common Core” said HB 2190 “returns everything Common Core took away from our state.”

Key to the debate, though, was whether that’s better or worse.

Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said the problem with the old standards is they really didn’t prepare students for college. Coleman, a former teacher, said that has resulted in universities and community colleges having to offer remedial courses for Arizona high school graduates.

But Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he thinks the focus has been too much on preparing students for college and career and not enough on “who they are as individuals.” He also said it’s not necessary to have Common Core to teach students to be critical thinkers.

Coleman also worried that the restrictions in HB 2190 would preclude Arizona from some common-sense goals, like saying first graders should learn their numbers, simply because 20 other states have the same standards. But he agreed to go along with other Republicans to have further discussion of the issue.

HB 2190 also drew opposition from Garrick Taylor, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The current standards are working,” he told lawmakers. And he said it would be a waste of money to scrap the Common Core standards four years after they were approved and now start coming up with something else.


  1. While I favor deep reforms to the Common Core, the Bill might be rename the Eternal Ignorance Act.
    If nothing can be taught that the parents don’t understand, then we have decided that children will always be less educated than their parents! What kind of a competitive future will that give us?

    It is time to admit that the ability to procreate does indicate the ability to educate.

    Ted Downing
    Former legislator and Prof. of Social Development, Univ. of Arizona

  2. Does it matter that parents only want their child to secure a good education? How will parents know how their child is doing without an assessment process of where they are? What replaces Common Core and why is Arizona not able to work with the federal standards? Arizona is represented in the Governor’s Association right? Our state is a part of a nation not separate. Yes, we should have options, but if what is being done in other states is working why are we so against innovation that works. What was in place before was not working, so time for change. Are legislators elected to look out for our children in Arizona and work together for the common good or were they elected to fight the federal government while taking the benefit of the funds provided to the states? Work for residents of Arizona, not ideological beliefs that might hurt our state.

  3. I am proud to be an American where such issues can be debated with words instead of on the street with violence. Is it really necessary to make this Common Core a law and attach school funding to the success or lack of from our students. Lets provide the challenging classes for our best minds; although do not place all children into a one size fits all situation, where they are basically punished for curricula they do not understand. Let us place the responsibility of education with individual communities and districts. Lets train our students to be proud Americans first then interject education that is meaningful.
    Hopefully we can graduate students who can join apprenticeship programs and enter the work force with opportunity to earn a living in our world. Lets promote education not stricter laws. Let us offer rigid academics for the students who are inclined to succeed in such pedagogy.
    Free to state my opinion on my lunch 30 minutes. Roy Valichnac

  4. Common Core is not doing better, it’s not helping. Children are confused more than ever and their parents can’t do a thing to help them. We came in from Indiana where the curriculum is 1 -2 years ahead of Arizona. My kids were straight A and B students there. We move here and where they should be ahead of the game they actually moved behind due to not understanding how to complete the math portions of their work. You can’t jusy change the way things have been working for years. Then schools in Tucson that were highly rated, A rated schools are now D and F rated schools. They act as if its all the students and parents faults. Everyone’s frustratex and a lot are failing. And the standardized testing, AZ merit is so rediculous teachers spend 3 months out of the school year teaching the kids what will be on the tests instead of moving on. So they’re always behind. Heaven forbid they go to a college who want supply them with the classes they should’ve already had in High School. PCC hardly offers classes under Algebra 2 and FAFSA doesn’t cover it. These kids are on their own. They’re messing up the kids and then saying oh well, fix it yourself. It’s a failing system with growing violence and the schooks are imploding on themselves.

  5. Sorry for the miss-spells, phone’s buttons are slightly small!

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