- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The lieutenant governor said Monday that he wants Mississippi to stop using the Common Core State Standards to guide its public school curriculum and instead create its own higher standards.

“Mississippi children deserve standards developed by teachers and parents,” Republican Tate Reeves said Monday at a luncheon sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.

The Reeves-led Senate rejected efforts by some senators in 2014 to have Mississippi abandon the math and English language arts standards, though Reeves said he was monitoring how they were implemented.

He said Monday he changed his mind when the U.S. Department of Education revoked Oklahoma’s waiver from portions of the No Child Left Behind Act in August, after legislators there dropped Common Core guidelines. The federal education agency restored that waiver last week after Oklahoma’s replacement guidelines were certified as making high school graduates ready for college or work.

“This has convinced me that what started as a state-led initiative has been hijacked by the Obama administration,” Reeves said. “We cannot accept this heavy-handedness from Washington telling us how best to teach our children. Therefore, I will support legislation in the next session to end Common Core in our state.”

Reeves could not cite any specific instances of inappropriate federal involvement in Mississippi, but said he’d seen such involvement “throughout America.” He took the position Monday less than a year before the 2015 state elections, when he could face attacks by right-wing opponents of Common Core.

He adopted much of the language of Common Core critics, saying Mississippi should strive for even higher standards, should seek “cost-effective” tests and seek to protect student data. At the same time, he voiced doubts about multistate tests Mississippi will administer this spring and called for tests that “measure how children have learned to think, not simply rote memorization.” The teaching and testing of understanding is a key aim of Common Core.

State Superintendent Carey Wright has been an outspoken supporter of Common Core. She and state Board of Education Chairman John Kelly of Gulfport issued a joint statement voicing “grave reservations about changing the playbook in the middle of the game.”

They warned that it wouldn’t be quick or cheap to rewrite what are officially called “Mississippi’s College- and Career-Ready Standards,” citing the years of training and millions invested in curriculum materials and professional development.

“Changing course after our educators have been working in good faith for years to help students reach higher standards is unfair and counterproductive,” Wright and Kelly said.

Reeves said that despite the disagreement, he supports Wright’s continued service.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who called Common Core “failed” in June even before Mississippi districts completed implementation, welcomed Reeves’ opposition and said he would work with the lieutenant governor.

Reeves said he wants the Legislature to appoint a task force to devise new standards, bypassing the state Board of Education, which has traditionally set standards.

“We need input from parents, we need input from teachers, we need input from administrators, we need input from subject matter experts,” Reeves said.

Under the state constitution, one board seat apiece is reserved for a teacher and an administrator.

It’s unclear whether Reeves will seek major changes or only cosmetic ones. Oklahoma is the only state that has repealed Common Core, although North Carolina, South Carolina and Missouri are conducting reviews. Some of the 46 states that originally adopted Common Core have made changes, but largely kept the standards, including Florida and Utah, two examples cited by Reeves.

State Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, a leading critic of Common Core, dismissed such moves as “rebranding.”

“That’s not what we’re looking for,” said Hill, who said she supports Reeves’ efforts.

But state school board member Wayne Gann of Corinth, who said he was speaking only for himself, said that while a review is OK with him, he largely supports Common Core.

“I think it’s probably a good idea to review it and give it a Mississippi badge without sacrificing the essence of Common Core,” Gann said.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy


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