JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi legislators passed with wide support a bill Thursday that proponents say will give the state more control over public education standards but even they admit it would have no effect on what schools currently teach.
House Bill 156, approved 95-21, changes all references to the controversial Common Core State Standards to what the state Board of Education has been calling them for two years: “The Mississippi College and Career Readiness Standards.” The bill was about clarification, said House Education Committee Chair John Moore (R-Brandon.) Next, it moves on to the Senate.
During the 30-minute discussion, several representatives asked if the name change would affect the content of the standards. Moore and House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), both said the bill had nothing to do with the actual standards.
“It doesn’t change anything that has to do with Common Core, period,” Moore said. He said the new name was needed officially because some members of the state board were already using it.
He also defended the legislation as a strong stand for state control over education and said that the legislation would free Mississippi from unwanted federal control.
“Any change we made at all had to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education,” Moore said about the standards. The bill would allow the state to make changes in the future “without having to go through the minutia of the federal government,” he said.
But , according to the U.S. Department of Education, Mississippi has never needed permission from the government to make changes to the standards. States are only required to provide proof that they are using adequate college and career ready standards approved by each state’s network of colleges.
In fact, states like Florida added nearly 100 standards to Common Core without asking or involving the federal government. The state Department of Education approved those changes now called the Florida Standards.
Mississippi and 44 other states adopted the more rigorous Common Core standards in 2010 after the Obama administration required tougher standards for those seeking state waivers from the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. The Common Core standards lay out what students should learn in math and English language arts in kindergarten through 12th grades, and Mississippi’s schools have been slowly rolling them out.
But the standards have become a contentious political topic. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and others have called for them to be replaced and although this bill will have no effect on the standards, some view it as the first step to dropping them completely.
Common Core opponents have tried in the past to pass bills to do away with the standards, but none have made it through. Earlier this month Senate Bill 2468 was referred to the Senate Education Committee, and if passed by the House and the Senate, would allow parents to choose whether their children participate in a Common Core aligned curriculum.
Michael Brickman is the national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank that supports standards-based reform, including Common Core. He said Mississippi likely passed the bill to reaffirm that the state, not the government, has control of education.
“There are some people out there who for a very long time are saying that this (Common Core) is a federal mandate and states can’t do anything to change it,” Brickman said. “Changing the name can be a small show of state sovereignty.”