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Salaries, insurance key issues for Arkansas educators at forum featuring governor hopefuls

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HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas — Arkansas' leading candidates for governor said Tuesday that high standards are necessary in the state's education system, whether they're known as Common Core or as something else.

Cordial to the crowd and to one another, Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson said at a meeting of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center that the state should not water down widely adopted standards because someone perceives them as a federal plan to take over local schools.

"I think the important criteria is that we have high standards," Hutchinson said. "Whether it's Common Core standards or other standards, we need to recognize that, one, we have a mobile society and that was part of the design of the Common Core standards. And secondly, you don't want to do anything to lower the standards and expectations for our students."

Dozens of states adopted Common Core or similar standards to teach children critical thinking skills rather than have them learn information by rote. The goal is to have students nationwide ready for college or a career, rather than face a patchwork of education standards.

"We don't change what we teach them; we change how we present it to them, and in doing so it teaches them in a way that they can be better prepared for college," Ross said.

Both candidates are products of Arkansas' public school system — Ross from the now-shuttered Emmet district and Hutchinson from Gravette — and had a joint one-hour appearance before the group. Each tried to dispel myths that the Common Core standards have forced districts to alter course options.

"It's not a curriculum. It's a standard," Ross said. "It does not do away with cursive writing. It does not do away with memorizing multiplication tables. And it was not written by President Obama. ... It was written by people like Gov. Mike Huckabee and Gov. Jeb Bush and endorsed in a bipartisan way by the National Governors Association."

Ross said states that have moved to gut Common Core standards were putting politics ahead of pupils, and both candidates said they would be open to tweaking standards as long as they weren't weakened.

"I've heard so many different things about Common Core, and I agree there's been some misunderstandings out there," said Hutchinson.

A number of teachers said districts had opted against teaching cursive writing and laid the blame on the time it takes to meet the Common Core standards for achievement in math and English.

Hutchinson said Common Core standards must be reassessed if they cut into the time needed for cursive writing or multiplication.

"It's not because the standards prohibit it, but because the curriculum gets so packed and they (local boards) see it as unnecessary so they make a decision not to do it," he said.

"If you don't like what they're doing, you need to run against them," Ross said.

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PHOTO: Republican candidate for Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson responds to a question during a candidates discussion at the Arkansas Public School Resource Center Fall Conference, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, at the Hot Springs Convention Center in Hot Springs, Ark. (AP Photo/The Sentinel-Record, Richard Rasmussen)
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