Mississippi the Latest State to Doubt Common Core

Common Core Standards, once beloved by education reformers, are getting a second look in more states after hefty criticism. The Associated Press reports that the doubters now includes lawmakers in Mississippi.

Specifically, legislators are wondering if putting in different standards for different demographic groups – as Mississippi is planning to do – would even be in the spirit of the Common Core as the standards were designed.

State Senator Angela Hill of Picayune believes that the state should freeze its adoption of Common Core — and she’s hardly alone either in Mississippi or in the US. Although 44 states have announced plans to adopt Common Core, conservatives have decried the standards, saying that they open the door for the eventual federal takeover of K-12 education.

According to Mississippi officials, in her attack, Hill conflated the requirements laid out in the state’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind provisions and its Common Core adoption. They also argued that different standards don’t mean lower expectations for some students. Instead, they’re are a more accurate reflection of some students’ academic achievement.

“We don’t set a lower standard,” said Patrice Guilfoyle, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education. “The reality is children are at different levels.”

Hill and other members of the state Senate’s conservative coalition disagree, noting that both the targets and Common Core were mentioned in Mississippi’s waiver application to the federal government.

“It’s a package deal,” Hill said.

The coalition is a group of 11 Republican senators who say they’ve banded together to study issues. They are generally more distant from Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves than other GOP senators.

Hill said different targets for different groups of students by race or special education status is a backward step, and is possibly even discriminatory.

Hill said that the altering the standards based on someone’s race or ethnicity goes against the purpose of Common Core, which is to provide all children with the same level of proficiency.

When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2002, the legislation set 2014 as a deadline to have all American students at grade level in English and mathematics. According to Jeff Amy of the Associated Press, none of the 50 states covered by the legislation will be able to meet those requirements.

NCLB waivers granted by the Obama Administration’s U.S. Department of Education release the states from the deadline in exchange for a comprehensive plan to hit the benchmarks as quickly as possible. Common Core was supposed to be a part of that.

Hill, for example, wants Mississippi to pull out of a multi-state effort to develop Common Core based tests, as Oklahoma and Georgia have done. She also wants a bill like one passed in Indiana, which “pauses” implementation for public hearings. However, Mississippi appears to be further along than Indiana. There, only kindergartners and first graders are being taught a curriculum based on Common Core. In Mississippi, starting next month, all 490,000 public school students are supposed to be taught based on Common Core.

Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said in a Tuesday phone interview that he’s willing to listen to any senator’s concerns, but remains a supporter of the standards.