The Arizona Board of Education’s Monday vote to repeal Common Core standards in the state was met with instant approval online, but was followed shortly by confusion.
After all, the repeal of school standards prompts a lot of questions and concerns from educators and parents on what will be taught in Arizona schools moving forward. If Common Core is dropped, what will our kids learn?
Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes, along with Mac & Gaydos, interviewed four experts on Tuesday to ask them some of the tough questions and clear up the rumors surrounding the repeal of Common Core.
Pearl Chang Esau with Expect More Arizona, Arizona Department of Education spokesman Charles Tack and Tempe City Councilmember, East Valley Institute of Technology Assistant Superintendent David Schapira and Arizona Board of Education President Greg Miller all gave their thoughts.
We broke down each interview into a few categories below to simplify things. It’s a complicated topic, but hopefully this helps you have a better understanding of what the vote means to Arizona students. We also embedded each interview below so you can listen to the full conversation.
How did Arizona students fare under Common Core?
Despite the program getting a bad rap, our experts said Arizona students were shown to be improving while Common Core was used in the state.
“We believe the standards that are in place right now have moved us in the right direction,” Esau said. “They’re more rigorous. Survey after survey showed that, in Arizona, teachers believe that the content of the standards have moved us in the right direction.”
“The data shows that Arizona students have been improving,” Esau continued. “They’ve been on a consistent upward trajectory in their test results since the new standards were implemented.”
Why remove Common Core?
Common Core has been met with much contention in Arizona since the board voted to adopt it in 2010. While it was intended to be a standard by which Arizona students could be compared to others both domestically and internationally, it was quickly swept up into political sphere.
“When we adopted Common Core, it was a huge increase in the rigor level and accountability of our education system to get it to ensure that kids were learning what they needed to learn and a huge increase from our state standards prior to 2010,” Miller said.
Superintendent Diane Douglas ran for office on the promise of removing Common Core’s control over Arizona’s standards, though Esau said that may have been unnecessary.
“Arizona has always had authority over its own standards,” she said.
Miller agreed, saying Gov. Doug Ducey had already asked the board to review Common Core before it was repealed.
“We had already started the process of reviewing our existing standards at the request of the governor back in March or April,” he said.
“The vote was one that really didn’t need to take place,” Miller continued.
Regardless, Douglas won and Common Core was removed. Schapira said he felt the vote was more of a feather in Douglas’ hat than anything else.
“Now she can go say ‘I undid the board vote that made Common Core the standard in the state’ and she can go campaign on that in her reelection and say that she accomplished something,” he said.
Tack disagreed, saying Douglas had the best interest of Arizona students at heart when she proposed the vote.
“It will allow us to modify them and tailor them (the standards) to the unique needs of our students and that choice now lies with the state of Arizona,” Tack said.
What does the vote mean?
Our experts disagreed on if Monday’s vote was more symbolic or practical.
“The vote was symbolic in nature and it’s really important for folks to understand that the standards that are happening in classrooms today will continue,” Esau said. “The vote actually affirmed continuing to stay the course with the standards that are currently being taught and supported the review process that is currently in place to improve upon those standards.”
“Any changes at this point will be done through the state Board of Education’s normal review process,” she said.
Schapira agreed with Esau. He said he’s been fielding calls from both parents and educators since Monday’s vote.
“I’m trying to help them understand this is not going to undo or change or negate all the work that has been done over the last five years to get our standards to a rigorous point that we can benchmark from state to state and even internationally,” he said.
Tack disagreed, saying the vote frees Arizona to make changes to the copyrighted Common Core standards as it sees fit.
“This is really a changing point for the standards and that’s why it’s more than just symbolic because we now have that ability to bring back control to Arizona, whereas before, we were subject to national standards that would not allow us to adjust for the particular needs of Arizona students,” he said.
All our experts agreed that, despite opting out of the direct use of the federally-backed Common Core, it would not affect funding given to Arizona.
“Federal funding is tied to some things,” Esau said. “It’s tied to testing and accountability, at least for right now and all that is changing of course with the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] being authorized at the national level.”
Miller said Common Core funding contributed 8-10 percent of the total money spent on each student. He said if that is lost, the state will have to make more cuts to education or contribute the money locally.
What happens next?
After Monday’s vote, the state board of education can use its review process to amend, delete or add to Common Core standards.
“The review process is a healthy process — now that we’ve had the standards for five years – to take a look at them and see if there’s any changes we want to make,” Esau said.
Tack said any change made by the board will not be simply dropped into the education system’s lap.
“We want all parents to know that the goal of any of the review process for any of our standards is to make gradual changes to standards as we learn new ways,” he said.
Both Esau and Schapira said it’s important for parents to submit their feedback soon — be it online or by contacting the Legislature — so it can be taken into consideration.
“They’re going to be having a special session that’s probably going to be the end of this week that’s going to make a difference for the next 5-10 years on what education funding is going to look like in this state,” Schapira said.
Douglas will also tour the state to get direct feedback from communities.