Ohio Common Core Fight Recommences

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The legislative debate over a bill that would repeal Common Core began Monday in Ohio, commencing what will likely be the last of many fierce battles over the controversial education standards in 2014.

HB 597, if approved, would make Ohio the fifth state to reject Common Core after previously adopting it, following in the footsteps of Indiana, Oklahoma and the Carolinas. On Monday, legislators in the state house’s rules committee heard testimony from a variety of Common Core opponents.

The hearings were only the first of many which are expected to continue for most of the legislature’s remaining time in session. A final vote on the bill is only expected for after November’s elections, when the legislature will gather for a lame-duck session.

The bill isn’t the first time legislators in Ohio have pushed to kill the Core. Rep. Andy Thompson put forward a bill last fall which failed to gain traction, and is one of the sponsors of the new effort. Thompson has said this fall’s bill improves upon previous bills by setting forth a clearer way for Ohio to implement brand new standards that are sufficiently rigorous.

The bill does more than just repeal Common Core and prohibit Ohio from adopting any other standards created by an out-of-state entity. It also contains specific provisions designed to ban elements of Common Core that have drawn criticism. For example, the bill would mandate that 80 percent of English classes focus on “imaginative literature,” a sharp break from Common Core’s increased focus on having students read nonfiction and informational texts.

Another component of the law would mandate that 80 percent of texts taught to students from the eighth through twelfth grade be “complete works of classic British and American authors published prior to 1970.” That provision is likely a backlash against Common Core’s recommended reading list, which included novels such as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” (incidentally published in 1970) that critics said were too sexually explicit for schoolchildren.

However, by encouraging a sharp focus on English-language authors, the provision could discourage the reading of authors such as Homer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Victor Hugo who are popular choices for many high school English classes.

According to many school leaders in Ohio, Thompson’s bill is wasting the state’s time and endangering its students. Leaders from several leading Ohio education groups assembled in Columbus Monday to show solidarity in support of the Core’s continued use.

The Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA), and Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO), along with several individual school superintendents, said at a joint press conference that legislators must “stay the course” on Common Core.

“The teaching profession is firmly behind Common Core,” said BASA executive director Kirk Hamilton at the press conference. OASBA executive director David Varda, meanwhile, criticized the bill’s proponents for remaining unsatisfied even after the legislature had acted to resolve major concerns with Common Core.

“The Ohio General Assembly…has already taken action to allay concerns,” Varda said. He pointed out that the legislature had explicitly guaranteed individual districts the right to control their own curriculum and had acted to protect student data from misuse.

The bill is relying on a variety of legislative tactics in order to achieve passage in the waning days of 2014. Despite concerning an education issue, it has not been introduced to the state House’s education committee, because the chair of that committee is a Common Core supporter. Instead, it is being heard in the Rules Committee, which is presided over by Matt Huffman, a cosponsor of the bill.

Even despite such tactics, however, the bill could run into an impassible roadblock in Gov. John Kasich, who has expressed support for Common Core. Since any approved bill would arrive at his desk following his November reelection bid, Kasich will feel little direct political pressure to approve it.

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