Despite backlash in other states over new learning standards known as the Common Core, little serious opposition has surfaced in Washington.
Over the past four years, about 100 bills to curtail or repeal the Common Core learning standards were introduced in state legislatures across the nation.
Five states today are replacing the standards. Lawmakers in at least 27 more have proposed delaying or scrapping them, and in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal, once a Common Core supporter, has sued the federal government over them, saying they are an attack on local control.
Yet in Washington state, four years after committing to use the new benchmarks, the first two bills seeking to repeal them were introduced just last week, and even the supporters of one of them don’t expect it to pass.
“I don’t believe we’re going to get the bill through this session,” said Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, one sponsor of the bill in her chamber.
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Why has there been so little noise in Washington over what has been a political quagmire elsewhere?
Some lawmakers, parent groups and political experts say that may be because the state has had its hands full with other educational problems, especially the state Supreme Court mandate to significantly increase school spending. Others say that lawmakers here view higher standards as a good thing, and don’t see the standards as federal intrusion into education, an argument that has derailed the Common Core elsewhere.
Like most states, Washington signed onto the Common Core standards with little fanfare in 2011.
The Common Core outlines what students should know in math and reading before they graduate from high school. Two national groups of schools chiefs and governors coordinated the writing of the standards hoping, in part, to encourage teachers to help students do more critical thinking and problem solving.
Proponents said one benefit of the common benchmarks would be more continuity from state to state, helping ensure students who move don’t miss an important skill — like long division — just because their old schools taught lessons in a different order.
Schools in Washington have slowly phased in the standards since 2012. Tests to measure whether students are meeting them will be given statewide this spring, after pilot tests last year.
The education issue that has gotten the most attention here is school funding.
In 2012, one year after Washington adopted the Common Core, the state Supreme Court handed down its landmark school-funding decision, McCleary v. State of Washington, saying lawmakers were chronically underfunding the state’s public schools.
Since then, the court has struggled to enforce its decision. Last year, it found the Legislature in contempt, saying lawmakers were making too little progress in increasing the amount of money they devote to public schools.
“We’ve got bigger issues (than the Common Core), quite frankly,” said state Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, who heads the Senate’s education committee.
“How are we going to have a solution for McCleary? How are we going to … raise the graduation rate and close the opportunity gap?”
Stephanie Jones, executive director of Community and Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, agreed.
“I think the prevailing attitude certainly right now is, ‘We’ve got to deal with our funding base,’ ” she said.
And to many lawmakers from both parties, the Common Core makes sense.
“Once folks read the actual standards, it’s a bit of an ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment,” said Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, in an email.
Both the far left and far right, he said, have found common ground in opposing the Common Core. That alliance has made Washington moderates in both parties wary of the anti-Common Core message, he said, and as a result, the political center here hasn’t been swayed by the arguments.
In this state, both political parties have voted to condemn the standards — the state Republicans last year, and the state Democrats last month.
But their arguments don’t appear to have resonated with most elected officials.
And Washington doesn’t fit the pattern of the five states that have revoked or are in the process of revoking the Common Core, said Daniel Thatcher, a senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures. In each of them, Republicans controlled the House and Senate, he said, and four of the five have Republican governors, too.
Randy Dorn, Washington’s schools chief, said Washingtonians support the Common Core because they generally agree that tougher expectations for students are needed.
“Many legislators have kind of taken a look at the Common Core, and (said), ‘OK, the reason for doing this is to have higher expectations for all children,’ ” Dorn said. “That’s it.”
Scrapping the standards and tests now, he said, would waste millions of dollars and all the time teachers have put into reorganizing their lessons to prepare students for them.
Ramona Hattendorf, a former government-relations coordinator for the state PTA, said Washington was already trying to increase student expectations before the Common Core came along. She cited the push to raise the number of credits needed to graduate from high school.
“For years, the state had been trying to get ‘college and career ready,’ ” Hattendorf said. “(Common Core) seemed to be in line with what we were doing.”
Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, said the union doesn’t support the standards but doesn’t oppose them, either.
Most teachers, she said, are more concerned about the new tests, not the standards themselves.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, a co-sponsor of the anti-Common Core bill, listed a lot of reasons why she dislikes the standards: She doesn’t think Washingtonians had enough chance to comment on them; school districts are buying expensive new textbooks to teach the standards; and the Common Core doesn’t require schools to teach cursive writing, which Roach thinks everyone should learn.
Chase, the Democrat sponsoring the bill, also cited a variety of reasons, including calling the standards “a swipe at local control.”
Both say they have more to learn about the Common Core, and they hope their legislation will start a discussion that has been largely absent in Washington state until now.