Every person in America has a vital interest in stopping Common Core, a top-down, one-size-fits-all government takeover of our education system. Instead of teaching critical thinking and problem solving, Common Core stresses the lowest common denominator, punishes achievement, and forces all students to conform to government standards.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Growing corps anti-Common Core Naysayers seek to nullify new nationwide education standard

Brenda Gray-Johnson, right helps granddaughter Sienna Rai Johnson with school work. Both live in Bond Hill. Gray-Johnson believes Common Core tests will challenge students to work harder and level the playing field for students across state lines.

Written by
Denise Smith Amos


• Ohio, Kentucky and 43 other states and Washington, D.C., have agreed to a common set of academic standards for English-language arts and math. Two coalitions of states are creating two sets of common tests, due in the 2014-15 school year. Ohio also is unveiling social studies and science tests.

• The Common Core is not technically curricula; it’s a set of standards to guide curricula choices. A standard describes what students should know or be able to do for each grade and subject. Using standards, educators and schools devise or purchase curricula, textbooks and other materials. 

Examples of Common Core standards: 

• A 12th-grader in a science class must be able to analyze an author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure or discussing an experiment in a text. The student also must identify important issues that remain unresolved. 

• A sixth-grader in a social studies class is supposed to be able to distinguish among fact, opinion and reasoned judgment in a text. 

• A third-grader should be able to give a report on a topic or text, tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

New Common Core reading and math standards are heading to a classroom near you. And trailing along is a growing chorus of critics and skeptics.

These opponents are hosting public forums, organizing phone trees and emailing elected officials. They’re texting and tweeting and signing Internet petitions.

And they’re having some impact:

• In the past two weeks, Ohio’s House removed $10 million in funds earmarked for Common Core-related technology from its budget proposal.

• Indiana’s legislators Friday voted to “pause” that state’s march toward the Common Core.

• Michigan’s House on Wednesday approved a budget bill banning the use of general funds for Common Core purposes.

• The Republican National Committee officially condemned Common Core as a federal attempt to usurp states’ rights.

• A number of conservative-leaning and Tea Party pundits dubbed it “ObamaCare for education.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked U.S. Chamber of Commerce members to speak up for the Common Core. And other proponents are reminding people that Common Core got its start in 2008 from a group of governors who are Democrats and Republicans.

In Ohio, parents and community members are increasingly divided over Common Core, which some say is necessary to measure student progress across state lines. But others say it’s better – and cheaper – for state and local boards to decide how to teach and test students.

Brenda Gray-Johnson, however, is not among their numbers.

Gray-Johnson, a Bond Hill grandmother, said Common Core gives her hope that her granddaughter, who attends Bond Hill Academy, a Cincinnati Public school, will receive as good an education as other students around the country, and maybe the world, because schools will have to teach to higher standards and kids will have to step up their academic efforts. “When children are challenged, they love it, because they’re very competitive,” said Gray-Johnson, who runs a training company. “It’s going to push all children (toward) those higher standards. They’ll be able to be competitive out there in the real world.”

But Tom Hahn, a Milford sales and marketing professional, is suspicious of the Common Core, which he says wasn’t widely publicized or discussed before 45 states, including Ohio and Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., approved of it in 2010.

“I just worry that the federal government is becoming pervasive in all aspects of our lives,” he said. “Frankly, they don’t run anything very well in my view, so I don’t necessarily trust them to run the schools.”

The Common Core refers to a set of educational standards for grades K-12 affecting math, English-language arts and reading. The standards are expected to be more rigorous than most current standards in Ohio, supporters say, and they’re supposed to result in more high school graduates who are ready for college and careers.
Who are the opponents?

Like its supporters, Common Core’s detractors hail from all parts of the political and educational spectrums: Education experts and non-experts, liberals and conservatives, TV personalities and nationally respected educators like Diane Ravitch, are all calling for an end to Common Core.

Among the most common objections:

• The Common Core is a “federally run, nationalized” education plan, foes say, rather than a product of state and local school board decisions.

Proponents counter that it comes from groups representing state governors and chief state school officers, and that states and districts, not the federal government, still choose whether and how to implement the standards. Several states have already declined parts or all of them.

• It’s a money-grab for testing, technology and textbook companies, opponents said. Hundreds of millions of federal education and Race to the Top dollars, as well as several billion dollars in private foundation money, is helping to pay for it.

Proponents point out that changes in state curricula and testing likely will profit education and technology companies; that’s not a reason to do it.

• The Common Core “lowers educational standards and severely limits” parental and local control over what’s taught in public and private schools, detractors say.

Proponents, including the conservative-leaning Thomas Fordham Institute, say Common Core standards are superior to many existing standards, including Ohio’s, drawn up under federal No Child Left Behind laws over the past decade or so.

• Opponents say the Common Core “exploits” children and families by allowing the dissemination of personal, private student data for research, political or commercial gain through data collection systems and databases.

Proponents, including Ohio education officials, say many states already keep much of that data, but have rules against disclosing information that identifies students.

Even on the question of whether enacting the Common Core is in danger, there’s disagreement. Opponents, including Ravitch and several Tea Party websites, are claiming victories and predicting waning support for Common Core among state legislators. But education officials, including Ohio’s Superintendent Richard Ross, say the Common Core is here to stay.

One of the strongest arguments against Common Core and its tests is that they are largely untested, Ravitch and other education experts say. Nobody knows what the test items will be, despite the release of some examples of test questions online.

“Part of the problem is the secrecy with which this is being done,” said Sandra Stotsky, a Massachusetts-based education expert who was on a Common Core validation committee.

The only states to have administered Common Core-related tests are Kentucky and New York, with mixed results. Kentucky last year designed and issued tests based on the Common Core. The number of elementary and middle school students deemed “proficient” was about a third lower than previous state tests. Yet that was better than expected, said state education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez, who added that more students than expected scored on the highest achievement levels of the tests.

“It’s a harder test,” she said. “The standards are harder, so the scores are going to go down ... But college and career readiness (based on high school test results) actually increased.”

Profits for test-makers

In recent weeks New York issued its own Common Core tests. Results have yet to be reported, but an education professor’s website drew a host of signed and unsigned complaints from teachers and parents.

Some said students had too little time to complete essays or to “read deeply” and answer the questions and reading passages on the tests. Others said English or math problems were inappropriately worded for students’ ages or grade levels.

A number of embarrassing gaffes also surfaced – product brand names appeared in some of the New York test questions and one teacher claimed she assigned her students to use Nazi propaganda to write persuasively about the “evil of the Jews” because of the Common Core standards.

Still, many experts say those problems won’t be part of the tests under development for Ohio and most of the other Common Core states. Two state consortia are working with nonprofit Achieve Inc. and for-profit test makers like Pearson on the new tests, which Ohio students will take in the 2014-15 school year.

Teachers’ unions in the past have not been champions of standardized testing, but this time they’re in Common Core’s corner. Union officials say the academic standards were developed with teacher input, and the tests are expected to measure higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, what teachers want. They’re also expecting tests to be more valuable to teachers than the current bevy of achievement tests, because results will arrive during the school year, when teachers can still help students.

“In some ways, (the Common Core) takes our more-experienced teachers back to the way they taught before the testing mania got crazy and before No Child Left Behind,” said Randy Flora, director of education policy research at the Ohio Education Association.

That doesn’t mean teachers’ unions are happy with everything; they still object to tying up to a half of a teacher’s annual evaluation points to student test performance.

Stotsky said she disapproves of some English/Language Arts standards and its emphasis on non-fiction reading. She’s not convinced it will lead to more college opportunities.

“It’s a set of standards that, depending on where you pass the tests, you are qualified for admission to a non-selective or a community college,” she said. “Does that make us competitive with other countries?”

Some non-experts also predict that Common Core, like No Child Left Behind, may become another education “fix” that fails. “Every time our education profession comes up with something new, there’s a big ray of hope,” said John R. Myers, a consultant who lives in Springdale.

“Should it fail to improve our US education system, I'm certain that our education profession will promptly analyze its faults and construct a better, more expensive concept for our future ... It is what they do best.”

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