Common Core opposition grows on LI, nationwide

People protest at the Common Core Education Forum People protest at the Common Core Education Forum at Ward Melville High School on Nov. 12, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Opposition to the Common Core academic standards and assessments associated with them have strengthened on Long Island and nationwide, with officials in states such as Indiana proposing to slow implementation and a Kentucky parent taking legal action to block Core-related changes.

"The Common Core has not been without drama, that's for sure," said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., which has conducted repeated surveys of states that have adopted the Common Core.

On Long Island and statewide, many educators have endorsed the concept of the national academic standards but have taken strong issue with the state Department of Education's push for rapid introduction of new curricula and the tougher tests tied to them.

In response, the Education Department has modified its stance on tests, saying some math exams will have fewer questions and the test-taking times will be shortened, but has pledged to continue the Common Core implementation.

 

Political debate

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Nationally, the debate has political overtones, said Michael McShane, who recently co-authored a book on the Common Core and education reform, with the right arguing that the federal government has taken too strong a role in local education by pushing Common Core and tying federal Race to the Top money to the assessments. Those on the left have criticized the linkage of students' test performance to teachers' job evaluations, McShane said.

Critics also have said the curriculum is costly.

"We thought from the beginning it is not necessarily the standards, it is how the standards are integrated into the evaluations . . . and other issues," McShane said.

At recent education forums in East Setauket, Garden City Park, Manorville and upstate, the Common Core and testing brought strident criticism from angry teachers and parents, who have told state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. that their children are being used as guinea pigs in a poorly conceived, rushed rollout of more rigorous material and over-testing.

The Education Department last week postponed a fourth forum on Long Island, which was scheduled for Monday in Nassau County. The department said it would hold the event at a later time.

 

Some states pulling back

Critics nationwide have pointed to Louisiana and Massachusetts as pulling back from Common Core. But Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said that those states have chosen to evaluate the use of the exams associated with the curriculum -- called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams -- and not the curriculum itself. Those exams still are under development.

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"Neither Louisiana nor Massachusetts have taken any kind of dramatic action with regard to Common Core implementation," Burman said. "And just like New York, those states will continue to implement the Common Core learning standards in their classrooms and to phase in over time the administration of state assessments that are aligned with the more rigorous Common Core standards."

Recently, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida told federal officials the state was withdrawing from PARCC, and will hold public comment sessions to receive input on any alterations that should be made to the current Common Core standards, according to a statement from Scott's office.

The standards were developed as an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense's schools have adopted the standards, which are meant to ensure students graduating from high school are prepared for college or the workforce. New York's adoption came in 2010.

Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have not adopted the full Common Core, and Minnesota has adopted only the reading standards.

Experts said many stakeholders nationwide agree with the philosophy of the Common Core and that academic standards must be raised. Ferguson said the Center on Education Policy's recent survey data show that 39 of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards have no plans to change their implementation.

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"When you look at the survey data, they are in support of the Common Core. They love what these standards are about," Ferguson said. "They don't love the high-stakes teacher evaluations -- but good, bad or otherwise, they are linked."

Success in Tennessee

New York State Department of Education officials have noted that Tennessee and Washington, D.C., which are both ahead of New York in implementation of reforms, have had the strongest growth in recent scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the "nation's report card." They pointed to the gains as evidence that reforms are working.

But parents and educators from across New York have asked the state to slow the assessments. Last month, the New York State PTA called for a one-year moratorium on tests linked to Common Core curricula and other educators have pressed for a slowdown.

In Tennessee, school officials gradually rolled out the revised curriculum, said Susan M. Benner, associate dean of professional licensure and director of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's Graduate School of Education.

"They did not launch it at K-12 English and math. They launched it piecemeal and chose to watch it in the early grades," Benner said.

She said the state has shown a "huge leap" in its National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.

"Tennessee is the state that has had the most improvement on its NAEP scores this year. And that is huge news for a state like Tennessee," she said. "Without a doubt, Common Core was moving our standards in the right direction.

"If I lived in Massachusetts or Connecticut, maybe I would be looking at it askance," Benner said. "But as a citizen of Tennessee, there is no way that Common Core standards were beneath what we already had in place."

Still, there has been growing opposition in the state, with anti-Common Core groups forming and rallies being held against the standards. Teachers and future teachers there also are concerned because the assessments are tied to their evaluations, Benner said, adding that a recent policy change linked teachers' licensure retention to the tests.

In Indiana, where the curriculum was adopted in 2010, lawmakers voted to pause it last spring and the future of the curriculum remains uncertain. That delay was considered a victory for Hoosiers Against Common Core, a coalition that mobilized about 50 grassroots groups throughout the state against it, said Heather Crossin, co-founder of the group and a parent from Indianapolis.

"We want it to be out by May first," Crossin said. The group seeks local control over education and wants to reduce the power of standardized testing.

Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank that is a leading opponent of Common Core, said similar opposition groups have formed in states such as Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin. He said there are dozens of bills in states all over the country to slow or pull out of the tests or standards.

In Kentucky, a political activist and parent, David Adams, filed a suit challenging the legality of Common Core, arguing that the state adopted the standards before they were complete, according to news reports.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the Boston-based National Center for Fair & Open Testing, noted he expects dissent to grow. Common Core doesn't go into effect officially until the 2014-15 school year, allowing "a better part of the year for the grassroots dissatisfaction to ferment," he said.

But Ferguson, of George Washington, said the Common Core standards and related curriculum are likely here to stay.

"That train is gone and has left the station," Ferguson said.

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