CONWAY — The Common Core state standards could someday be known by a different name in Arkansas.
State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said Wednesday that Arkansas has asked the coordinators of the Common Core State Standards Initiative for written clarification of certain issues, including the question of whether Arkansas has the flexibility to change and rename the standards.
“It was a phone call through governor’s office to them, asking for a letter giving our state permission, as they have with other states, to rename those,” Kimbrell said.
The standards seek to ensure that expectations for American students do not vary from region to region and are on par with expectations in countries where students have been outperforming American students. Arkansas’ phasing in of Common Core culminated with full implementation this school year.
Critics say the standards take flexibility away from teachers and over-emphasizes testing.
Common Core’s coordinators are the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO. The state has received a letter from the CCSSO but has not yet received a response from the National Governors Association.
The letter from the CCSSO states in part, “Each state may choose to add additional content to the standards. States deliberately decided to build in flexibility for any state to add an additional 15 percent of state-specific material onto the standards.”
The letter does not specifically mention renaming the standards.
Kimbrell spoke to the Arkansas News Bureau while attending a conference at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway on efforts to increase the number of college-ready students graduating from Arkansas high schools.
Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, which sponsored the conference, said Arkansas could rename the Common Core standards.
“You can call them Common Core, you can give them an Arkansas name, whatever you want,” McGuire told the educators and policy makers attending the conference. “But the idea of agreeing about a high, world-class set of expectations for kids is hugely important, whatever you decide to call them.”
Members of the House and Senate education committees attended the conference. Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Wednesday he had not been involved in any talks about giving Common Core a new name.
At a legislative hearing on Common Core in July, state lawmakers asked a number of questions about how much flexibility the state has. Some asked if the fact that the standards are copyrighted means that the state cannot change them without violating the copyright.
“In conversation with both groups, the Governors Association and the chief state school officers’ organization that I’m a member of, there is no concern about the copyright,” Kimbrell said Wednesday.
The letter from the CCSSO states that the standards are copyrighted to protect them from unauthorized use by vendors. It also states that the standards do not dictate what instruction materials must be used in the classroom and “do not tell teachers how to teach.”
The standards pre-date the Obama administration, but the administration supports them. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sparked controversy last week when he said to a group of school superintendents that “some of the pushback is coming from white suburban moms who, all of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”
Duncan apologized on Tuesday.
Kimbrell said Wednesday he agreed with Duncan that “he shouldn’t have said it.”
“It hurts our efforts in assuring folks that this is a set of standards for all kids, every student, from students of families with lots of resources and opportunities for educational advancement to our students who have the least opportunities and the least resources for advancement in education,” Kimbrell said.
Key said of Duncan’s comments, “I’m not sure what he was trying to communicate, but to single out a segment of parents and blame things on them, that’s not helpful.”