Opponents ask Ark. to drop Common Core

LITTLE ROCK — Opponents of a set of uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math that have been fully adopted in most states asked Arkansas lawmakers Monday to back out of the standards, saying the plan takes away the state's control over its classrooms.

Teachers, parents and national groups opposed to the Common Core standards urged lawmakers to drop the benchmarks as a legislative panel opened a two-day long hearing. Arkansas is among 45 states that have adopted the standards, which will be fully implemented in the state by the 2014-2015 school year.

Virginia Wyeth, an English teacher at Little Rock Central High School, said she believed the new standards would burden teachers by forcing them to spend even more time preparing students for standardized tests rather than focusing on lessons.

"These are our schools and our children. We need to keep the policy making right here at home," Wyeth told members of the House and Senate Education committees. "Common Core takes those decisions out of our hands."

The Arkansas Board of Education voted in 2010 to adopt the Common Core standards, and state legislators endorsed the effort a year later. Under the standards, students are taught English, language arts and math using standards that are heavily focused on skills needed for future careers and college work.

"We believe these standards are what students need to know and be able to do at these grade levels, and we're getting teachers trained to get there," state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell told the committee.

Kimbrell told lawmakers Arkansas still has control over its curriculum after adopting the Common Core standards, saying "they become whatever standards you want them to be."

The standards, however, have drawn criticism from Republicans in other states that are reconsidering the benchmarks. A measure approved by the Republican-led U.S. House last week to dismantle the No Child Left Behind law includes a provision that bars Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his successors from encouraging states to implement Common Core.

Sen. Johnny Key, a Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the meetings were intended to address concerns raised about the standards and to allow education officials to explain Common Core. Key said he didn't know of any plan by legislators to block Common Core's implementation.

"I felt like these hearings would be good to fill in the gaps," Key, of Mountain Home, said. "We know the state board adopted it, we know we're implementing it, but there's some background that a lot of members have questions on and there's some pros and cons that important for members to weigh in."

The hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday, with testimony from the chairwoman of the state Board of Education, the head of the state Chamber of Commerce, teachers and students.