Arizona House committee takes 1st step in dropping new Common Core school standards

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PHOENIX — A House committee approved a proposal Wednesday evening that would ditch Arizona's new Common Core school standards and strip the state Board of Education's ability to adopt new standards.

Wednesday's 5-2 vote in the House education committee came after hours of testimony from proponents and opponents of the standards adopted in 2010.

House Bill 2190 by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, now moves to the House floor after a routine constitutional review.

The standards adopted by more than 40 states have become a political issue across the country as opponents criticize them as driven by the federal government. Proponents say they are state-created and designed to increase standards to ensure high school graduates are prepared for college.

In Arizona, a similar effort failed in the Legislature last year and former Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed one bill that sought to limit the state's ability to adopt any federally mandated standards.

But the issue continued to resonate, as voters elected an opponent of Common Core, Diane Douglas, as superintendent of public instruction in November.

Finchem's proposal is wide-ranging and blunt. It ends Common Core, sets up a new committee to study alternatives and blocks the Board of Education from adopting new standards unless the committee and the Legislature agree. The board adopted the standards in 2010, and they are now fully implemented.

A new test to measure students' skills is expected to be given for the first time this spring, although Douglas strongly opposes it.

Finchem said the state's right to set its own standards has been "usurped by the federal government."

"Arizona among other states was promised higher education standards than the previous AIMS standards," Finchem said. "In fact, we've been handed lower standards through federal intervention and through a constitutionally protected state government manner."

Backers include the education community, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other business groups.

Amanda McAdams, the state's 2011 Teacher of the Year and the parent of three school-age children, told the committee that children will struggle at first as they work to meet the new standards. But she urged the committee not to ditch them after teachers had spent years preparing for their implementation.

"That would absolutely be a slap in the face to teachers and those who have worked so hard," McAdams said.

Another teacher, Brad McQueen of Tucson, has been on the other side of the debate. He's written extensively about his concern about the standards and what he said in retribution he's received because he doesn't back the education establishment.

"It's with great credit I think that the anti-Common Core movement is so powerful because we don't have the money," McQueen said. "We just got Diane Douglas elected, and she's the only one speaking for us, and she's being treated like a pariah on the non-elected state Board of Education."

Schools have spent millions of dollars re-training teachers and purchasing new textbooks and other materials to align with the new standards and prepare for the new test. Proponents argued that ditching them is a waste.

"Spending time and money on this sort of proposal when we have seen that the current standards are working is not wise," said Garrick Taylor, the Chamber's lobbyist. "Pulling the plug on standards that have been implemented for four years and that the business community, teachers and parents believe are working is not the answer."

The five Republicans on the committee votes to approve the bill, with the two Democrats opposed.

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