- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - After years of controversy surrounding the Common Core standards for reading and math education, their Kansas supporters fear momentum is building this year for repeal.

The House Education Committee approved a bill earlier this month that would prohibit school districts from aligning any materials, tests or programs to Common Core or any other nationwide curriculum.

“Since last year it had no steam or momentum, and then all of a sudden it was passed out of the committee and on the agenda for a House debate,” said Brad Neuenswander, the state’s deputy education commissioner. “It’s a concern of ours because it still has some legs.”

The standards were developed by a group of states with the goal of making sure students were ready for jobs or higher education after graduation. Common Core is optional for the states, and the Kansas State Board of Education adopted them in 2010. The standards call for a classroom focus on analytical skills instead of rote memorization.

The standards have caused criticism from the start, with opponents calling them a national mandate and arguing the curriculum is a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Supporters say they encourage rigorous standards throughout the state.

One sign the bill may be being prepped for more serious consideration is that House leadership sent it back to the education committee to have one of the most-opposed aspects - provisions that would have banned Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams - removed. State board member Deena Horst said she sees that as a sign that the bill could be gaining traction, and it worries her.

House Education Committee chairman Rep. Ron Highland, a Republican from Wamego, said he plans to take the bill up again this session. He thinks it has a good chance of passing if other lawmakers have heard as many complaints as he has.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Nickerson Republican, said he’d like to see the Senate debate the bill.

Neuenswander said the education department supports Common Core because it allows students to think critically and apply the skills that they’ve learned to real life situations.

Neuenswander points to $100 million spent annually on computers, textbooks and testing that will have been wasted if the standards are repealed. What’s more, he said, it’s not clear how the state could create new standards that aren’t similar to Common Core.

William Hall, superintendent of Salina schools, said repeal would set his schools back several years. Students seem more engaged in classes and Common Core is helping reduce the achievement gap, he said.

“By increasing the rigor, we will get our low-income students moving up to the level that they need to be,” Hall said.

But some parents and teachers think not all students should be expected to learn at the same rigorous level. Satanta art teacher Jeffrey Locke said the standards squash creativity. His students have completed a handful of art projects this year because they are busy completing worksheets, he said.

Teresa Selensky, a mother from Grainfield, said her son had a similar experience in math, which had been his favorite subject before the school began using Common Core. She was alarmed when he began spending several hours a night completing homework that required him to explain each of his answers.

“The writers of this (curriculum) did not consider how differently kids think,” Selensky said. .

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