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Common Core

Critics long have bemoaned the quality of public education in America. Educators likely have been hearing about it since the day we left the one-room schoolhouse behind and began offering more than the three R's, although critiques have become more pronounced in recent decades.

U.S. students fare poorly when compared with other countries. Universities here say incoming freshmen simply aren't as prepared as they need be. Businesses complain first-time employees are not equipped with the required basic skills. And nobody appeared to like the No Child Left Behind mandate from the federal government.

So the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers helped coordinate states around the nation to develop a common core of state K-12 English language arts and mathematics standards. Not a curriculum teachers are forced to follow, but a structure that emphasizes deeper critical thinking that better prepares students for college and careers. Local school boards would have ultimate control, teachers would be allowed to be creative once again, and students would be the biggest beneficiaries.

The research-based rigor proved so attractive to educators, no less than 46 states have signed on. Kansas adopted the concept in 2010, and schools already are transitioning to the Common Core State Standards Initiative. New assessments are to be fully implemented by 2015.

Enter the Kansas Legislature. Fed anti-President Barack Obama rhetoric by the Kansas Policy Institute in Wichita and the Foundation for Educational Choice in Indiana, the House Education Committee introduced a bill this session that would prohibit districts from using Common Core standards or spending any money on them.

Instead, House Bill 2289 would force the Kansas State Board of Education to "establish curriculum standards which reflect high academic standards for Kansas eduction in the core academic areas." The proposed law bill goes on to say: "No curriculum standards ... shall include the set of educational curriculum standards for grades kindergarten through 12 established by the common core state standards initiative."

A fiscal note attached to the bill suggests revising the standards would cost at least $9 million, and that's without validating the standards and developing test forms.

In essence the Education Committee, whose members include Rep. Sue Boldra, R-Hays, is instructing the state to do precisely what it's been doing for the past few years. Just ensure it's not called Common Core, and avoid all of the commonsense standards almost everybody in the nation believes is the best route to pursue.

The problem, apparently, is that both Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan are amongst that majority. Neither had a hand in developing the standards, but they have endorsed Common Core. And that's enough to make it bad.

We were contacted by a local teacher who was at the recent Governmental Relations Workshop in Topeka sponsored by the Council of Superintendents and the Kansas Association of School Boards. This educator will remain anonymous, because we're fully aware of the retaliatory nature of those in charge inside the Statehouse.

The teacher was talking with Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who is chair of the Senate Education Committee as well as vice-chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee's education subcommittee. Abrams said both he and the governor do not like the Common Core standards. Not because he read them or even knew how they were developed, but because "that Obama and that Duncan endorsed them."

Unfortunately, such a mindset is what passes for legislative leadership at this point in time. We would beg Rep. Boldra, herself a former educator, to explain to fellow members what Common Core actually will do for students. To undo all the work already accomplished by teachers and superintendents throughout Kansas and the rest of the nation would be a waste of time and money -- and a slap in the face of all the professionals involved.

To rub salt in the wound by then instructing these same professional educators to do all the same work but devise something less stellar is beyond the pale. Kansas children deserve better from their elders.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net