Government & Politics

Kansas forges ahead with plan to stop Common Core standards

Syed Shamiun (right) and Vivian Pham take part in an International Baccalaureate course at East High on Thursday. A bill currently in the Kansas legislature would do away with IB and advance placement courses in public schools.
Syed Shamiun (right) and Vivian Pham take part in an International Baccalaureate course at East High on Thursday. A bill currently in the Kansas legislature would do away with IB and advance placement courses in public schools. The Wichita Eagle

Kansas lawmakers are making another attempt at repealing Common Core standards, with a measure some say could affect and possibly do away with Advanced Placement classes and International Baccalaureate programs.

House Bill 2676 would compel Kansas school districts to develop new standards for reading, math, science and other subjects that would replace the Common Core-inspired Kansas College and Career Ready Standards, which have been in place since 2010.

The bill passed out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday, shortly after committee members heard a presentation from Duke Pesta, a Wisconsin professor known for his outspoken opposition to Common Core.

The bill could be heard on the House floor as early as this week.

Before advancing the bill, the committee took its contents and stuffed them into Substitute House Bill 2292. The procedural move, known as a “gut and go,” speeds up the legislative process.

The measure — similar to one proposed last year — calls for AP, IB and similar courses and tests to be aligned with new, non-Common Core Kansas standards. Educators say that directive would be difficult, if not impossible, because such courses are modeled on national or international frameworks.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would prohibit anything related to Common Core in Kansas classrooms and would require new standards for math and language arts and new assessments.

The Kansas State Department of Education has estimated the development of new standards would take two years and cost $9 million. Opponents say the financial impact could be much higher, particularly if districts would be required to replace Common Core-aligned textbooks and other materials.

“It would undo everything,” said Judith Deedy, executive director of Game On for Kansas Schools, a statewide education advocacy group.

“You don’t eliminate Kansas participation in AP and IB by saying you can’t do anything that Kansas doesn’t control. That’s not fair to the kids. You can’t just change curriculum overnight.”

At least one lawmaker who sponsored the bill said Friday that he wouldn’t support doing away with AP or IB programs.

“AP testing and IB programming in Wichita would not go away. I would not support that,” said Rep. Chuck Weber, a Wichita Republican who was one of 30 sponsors of the bill. “AP and IB as we know it … I would not support doing away with that.”

Weber said critics — including the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas National Education Association — are misinterpreting portions of the bill that they say would endanger programs such as AP and IB.

“AP and IB programs in Kansas are not going away,” he said Friday.

He said he supports repealing Common Core but that concern over eliminating AP or IB programs is “a fabrication of certain special interest groups.”

The bill he sponsored “is an attempt to bring curriculum standards in Kansas schools under the direction of Kansans. Period,” Weber said.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said Weber’s comments illustrate the confusion over the bill and its potential consequences.

“We would simply ask the supporters of the bill to explain: What is the purpose of the language which refers to those (AP and IB) provisions?” Tallman said. “If it’s not meant to affect them, why are they mentioned in the bill?

“The problem with this bill is, I don’t think we know what it does,” he said. “At minimum, the bill is not clear.”

Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican who is the House Education Committee chairman, said he supports doing away with Common Core “because of all the things that are associated with it.”

“It’s taken the state out of the education process, and it’s all coming down from above,” he said. “The teachers are essentially being taken out of this whole thing, and I trust my teachers, so that’s where I come down.”

Common Core standards have been controversial partly because of a misconception that they were developed by the federal government.

They were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and adopted by states voluntarily. They have been endorsed by President Barack Obama, and the U.S. Department of Education has offered incentives for their adoption.

During a committee debate last year, supporters of the measure called the standards indoctrination and claimed some Common Core-aligned texts — including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Cristina García’s “Dreaming in Cuban” — are pornographic.

A clause in the proposed bill says: “If advanced placement, international baccalaureate, dual credit or other similar courses and tests are administered to public high school students after July 1, 2017, they shall be aligned with (revised) Kansas curriculum standards.”

Highland, the committee chairman, said repealing Common Core “would just shift (Kansas) from U.S. standards to state standards,” and that programs such as AP and IB would not go away.

He was unclear, however, whether the proposed change would allow students to take nationally or internationally normed exams.

“They (schools) would have to look at that to see if those are coming through an organization associated with Common Core or not,” Highland said. If they are, “the state would have to develop their own (tests), but I don’t know that it will ever get that far down the road.”

Advanced Placement, a program created by the College Board, offers college-level classes and exams to high school students. Many universities award course credit to students who attain high scores on the year-end tests, so the classes are popular with students preparing for college.

The International Baccalaureate program, offered in three Shawnee Mission high schools; Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kan.; and four others in Kansas, is an internationally recognized college-prep curriculum that features rigorous coursework, independent research and community service. To earn an IB diploma, students must follow a prescribed course of study, sit for examinations and fulfill additional requirements of the program, which is governed by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Aaron Santry, president of the IB Parents Association at Wichita East High, said doing away with AP and IB courses and tests would hurt students.

“Regardless how any Kansan feels about Common Core, this bill would do an immense disservice to Kansas students in rigorous national or international programs,” Santry said. “It may also make Kansas colleges and universities look less attractive to out-of-state students.”

Opponents of the measure, including the Kansas National Education Association, said the bill could prohibit the SAT and ACT college entrance exams because they have been realigned to reflect Common Core standards.

Mark Desetti, the union’s legislative director, called the new bill “the most extreme anti-standards bill ever considered” by Kansas lawmakers.

“Even if you’re just simply opposed to the Common Core standards, there are other ways to get at that other than destroying public education entirely in Kansas,” he said.

Game On for Kansas Schools and other opponents of the bill began mobilizing against the measure Wednesday evening, saying lawmakers “pulled a legislative trick” to pass it through committee and onto the House floor without a hearing.

Scott Rothschild, communications specialist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, attended Wednesday’s committee meeting. He said Pesta, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, has traveled the country denouncing Common Core. Rothschild said Pesta spoke for more than an hour, at one point shouting and saying American public schools were modeled after totalitarian Prussia.

The meeting agenda said it would be an informational briefing on “The History of Education.”

After Pesta’s presentation, Highland brought up the bill, which passed on a voice vote. When some committee members complained that opponents weren’t allowed to testify, Highland said testimony was provided last year during debate on a similar measure.

“We’ve debated this for over three years now, and there was no need for any further debate,” Highland said Thursday.

“We’ve heard all of it. We’ve got written testimony — just bucket loads of it. So there was really no need to go any further in the debate.

“Our decision was it’s time for the entire House to have the debate.”

Asked why the Common Core measure and potential vote were not noted on the education committee’s agenda, Highland, the chairman, said: “That happens every day around here.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias