Aurora -- Although efforts are under way to repeal the new Common Core standards for education in Ohio, Aurora Superintendent Russ Bennett said he believes "these new standards are helping students to become thinkers and problem solvers."

Three days of hearings took place in Columbus last week on House Bill 597, proposed by Republican state Reps. Matt Huffman of Lima and Andy Thompson of Marietta, which addresses concerns about the national movement to implement more uniform educational standards in classrooms.

Proponents say Common Core is an effort to ensure every high school graduate has the foundational knowledge needed for college, technical schools or other career paths. It applies only to math and language arts, and is now referred to in Ohio as "Essential Skills."

Proponents also say local school boards retain control over curriculum, and districts have invested heavily in recent years training teachers and preparing lessons and assessments to meet the new standards.

But opponents say the standards represent an overreach of the federal government and corporate interests into local classrooms, with resulting textbook lessons so convoluted or awkwardly phrased that students and their parents don't understand them.

"The real change is that these standards are focused on students being able to apply knowledge versus many cases in the past where students just had to regurgitate a fact," Bennett said.

"AS AN educator for over 30 years, I can say that we have substantially improved what students need to know and perform, and that can be attributed to the standards. We've had standards for many years, and I fully support these new standards and think they are right for our students.

"By working with these standards daily, we have learned that 70 percent of the so-called 'new' standards are the same as those that existed before. Some standards shifted down a grade level and some new standards were added."

Bennett explained that from the statements or standards, teachers create their classroom assessments, lesson plans, pacing guides and recommendations for textbooks and supplemental materials.

"All textbooks are approved by the local Board of Education, so no local control has been lost," he said.

"Aurora has very high standards for its students, and the shift for us is less dramatic than other districts. Our reputation and state and national rankings all point to the great work of our staff and a relentless focus on student success."

LATE IN July, Huffman and Thompson introduced HB 597 as placeholder legislation "to repeal and replace the Common Core initiative academic standards [for math and language arts] and related assessment system."

Huffman, who serves as chairman of the rules and reference committee, opted to play host to hearings on the new repeal effort during lawmakers' summer recess, with no final action expected in the House until after the November election.

If enacted, Huffman said the legislation would require new standards to be in place for the 2017 school year.

Common Core standards would remain in place for the current school year, with standards formerly used in Massachusetts used during the two school years when new standards are being developed.

Democrats on the committee voiced concern last week about the process -- having the hearing before the rules and reference committee instead of the education committee, for example.

They also questioned the wisdom of changing standards that schools have already implemented and the timing of developing new standards.

"How are we holding ourselves accountable in terms of public trust?" asked Democrat House Minority Leader Tracy Heard of Columbus. "We have already invested I'm not sure how many millions of dollars in Common Core."

Dix Capital Bureau Chief Marc Kovacs contributed to this story.


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