According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Common Core is simply an upgrade of the standards that were already being taught in public schools. According to a group of concerned citizens in Halifax and across the country, the Common Core, and a new assessment, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), is everything from being grade and age inappropriate to a symbol of a loss of local autonomy in what is being taught in the public school system.
A non-binding referendum question will appear on the Halifax town election ballot asking Halifax to vote on whether to return to pre-2010 standards, when the legislature adopted the Common Core. Two informational meetings were held in the last few weeks addressing the issue, on April 29th and May 7th.
Both forums were well attended, with at least 50 people in the audience.
While the tenor of the first meeting was tense, with the audience effectively shutting down the panelists with a torrent of questions, the next week’s meeting had a different tone; while equally intense in terms of questions, more citizens appeared to agree with the panel.
The panel was made up of Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a former professor at the University of Arkansas who has served in several positions on the state board of education and was involved heavily in developing the MCAS standards and assessments between 1999-2003; Jamie Gass, from the Boston-based think tank the Pioneer Institute where he is Director of the Center for School Reform. Finally presenting was Dr. Peg Luksik, a politician, activist and supporter of limited government from Pennsylvania. All of the panelists came at the topic from very different angles.
Dr. Stotsky spoke first, presenting herself as one of the leading experts on the Common Core test nationally. She stated that she was her “own boss” so she was free of any kind of influence. She said that there was very little independent research being done on this subject, and it was mostly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a company that she did not explain: Achieve, Inc. Dr. Stotsky’s assertion essentially was that the MCAS standards were better than the Common Core standards. She passed out many handouts filled with information, but they often contained very speculative statements (“In the absence of any official information…is seems likely that…”) and not many hard numbers.
Mr. Gass, on the other hand had specific numbers and figures. He stated that the Common Core and the PARCC were too easy, and Massachusetts was better off continuing to use the MCAS standards that had already brought the state to the top of the country in education benchmarks. He made several other claims as well, including the one that the Common Core is illegal on Constitutional grounds and that adopting common standards meant coming to a common mediocre denominator.
Dr. Luksik took an opposing point of view, stating that the PARCC was too hard, and pointed out the troubles of standardized tests. During her slideshow, she showed various questions from the PARCC with difficult words that were unlikely for anyone to know. She also pointed out that the PARCC is often administered on a computer, where students will have to type answers during a timed test. She noted it would be difficult for an English Language Learner to take the PARCC. She even cited several incidents of the test making children cry.
The common point among all the panelists was the Common Core is not good for students, anywhere.
The audience was concerned with how to opt-out of the Common Core and PARCC, or take other tangible action to retain MCAS. Many questions were asked about the specific nuts and bolts of how that would work. For those opposed to the changes, it takes an act of the Legislature for a state to opt out of the Common Core as it has already been adopted. Students can, however, individually opt-out. Dr. Stotsky called for civil disobedience, but didn’t explain further. All panelists agreed that voting and contacting your representatives is helpful, either way you feel about the subject.
Of the few in attendance who spoke up for the Common Core, two school board members eventually ended up debating late into the night with the panel (40 minutes later than the first panel), insisting that the curriculum had stayed locally in Massachusetts despite assertions to the contrary (within the Common Core Standards. One member stated that it was irresponsible to suggest schools write their own curriculums and encourage students to opt-out of standardized testing. The conversation was eventually shut down by Superintendent John Tuffy as it became less civil.
The town election will be held tomorrow, Saturday, May 16th at Halifax Elementary School, 464 Plymouth St. The polls will be open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Residents will be asked to vote YES or NO on one non-binding ballot question reading: Do you request that the State Legislature nullify the 2010 decision of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to adopt the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks which incorporate the Common Core State Standards, and returning the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks to the pre-2010 Massachusetts State Standards?