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Common Core sparks debate



Published: Sat, April 26, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

COLUMBUS

All of you Common Core haters should take note of a short debate that occurred on one agenda item during last week’s Controlling Board meeting.

You remember the Controlling Board, right? That so-called little-known state panel that was all of the rage last year, when Gov. John Kasich used it to implement an expansion of Medicaid coverage, thus bypassing a full vote of the Legislature and drawing much ire from more conservative lawmakers?

Most regular people don’t pay much attention to the Controlling Board unless there’s something big and controversial to be decided. During most of its regular meetings, there’s little big or controversial even discussed.

Last week’s meeting really wasn’t out of the ordinary, either. The seven-member board — four Republican lawmakers, two Democrats and a president appointed by the governor — OK’d a bunch of contracts and spending requests and money releases for various projects at various state agencies. As is the case most of the time, the bulk of the agenda was approved without discussion.

Item No. 35

But members had questions on item No. 35, a request from state prison officials to purchase math and GED-related textbooks and materials for use by inmates.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction asked for nearly $300,000 for the purchase, plus a waiver of competitive selection for the two publishers involved, the only two offering the types of materials prisons sought.

Waivers usually draw questions from Republican members, who ask state agencies about their efforts to identify less-expensive alternatives.

Out-of-state purchases also draw questions from lawmakers, who would prefer Ohio businesses are patronized whenever possible.

But two other words in the DRC request raised the eyebrows of the two Republican senators on the board — that is, “Common Core.”

Turns out, state prisons are using textbooks and materials that line up with Common Core standards.

Ohio adopted Common Core several years ago, as have more than 40 other states. Backers say the standards will ensure schoolchildren across the country are ready to succeed in the 21st Century global world in which we reside.

But there’s a massive movement under way to persuade states to reverse course on Common Core, which some opponents have called the Obamacare of Education. They say it takes control of what’s taught in schools away from local communities, likely will cost more to implement than initial projections and has resulted in dumbed-down or convoluted ways of teaching basic math and other subjects to youngsters.

Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, has introduced legislation in the Ohio House to block the implementation of Common Core standards in math and language arts lessons.

Though that bill has had a couple of well-attended hearings, it isn’t on a fast track and doesn’t have support (yet) to move in the House.

And then came last week’s Controlling Board meeting.

Sens. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, and Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township, had questions about the state prison textbook purchase and the connection with Common Core.

Both voted against the request, which ultimately was OK’d by the rest of the panel.

“My objection is more towards the non-transparent nature of the Common Core standards, and then the exclusivity to have to buy from sole proprietors textbooks to have those standards implemented,” Widener told me afterward.

He added, “I think this is an issue for the state Legislature going forward. I was hoping that DRC could wait on the purchase of these textbooks so maybe we could have a little better discussion about that in the legislature.”

Legislation to repeal Common Core has not yet been introduced in the Ohio Senate.

“I think right now we’re looking at all the options,” Widener said.

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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