Metro

Common Core attracts controversy

State officials defend national program aimed to facilitate shared curricular standards

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2014

A year after Rhode Island implemented Common Core across its public school systems, some parents and stakeholders in the debate have raised concerns about the initiative’s efficacy and interference with local control of education. But as activists in some school districts call for the ability to opt out of the nationwide standards, the Rhode Island Department of Education defended Common Core’s impact on improving students’ outcomes.

Parents and teachers in Smithfield opposed to Common Core started a petition last spring calling for Rhode Island to repeal its participation in the initiative and for schools to be able to opt out of the program’s standards, multiple news outlets reported.

The standards, which Rhode Island adopted on July 1, 2010 and put into effect last fall, call for dramatic changes to students’ K-12 educational experience.

State officials drafted the Common Core initiative in 2009 with the goals of raising educational standards in language arts and math and creating “consistent, strong, clear benchmarks” nationwide for these subjects’ instruction, according to Common Core’s website.

“Common Core is meant to allow us to compare education across states,” said Kenneth Wong, professor of political science, public policy and urban studies and chair of the education department. The difficulty of comparing standards has been a problem for American education, causing students to suffer, he added.

“If we have a student who is high-performing in Connecticut, when that student moves to Massachusetts, he might go from being an A student to a B student,” Wong said.

Common Core’s website states that the program’s standards call for key analytical changes in language arts and math that “are designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses and workforce training programs.” These changes are considered to be “more rigorous” than many current state-level guidelines, Wong said.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers were involved with drafting Common Core, which some parents find to be an unsettling national intrusion into local educational authority.

“Parents are upset that education is being usurped by corporations and the federal government,” said Jean Lehane, spokesperson for Stop Common Core in Rhode Island. Some have raised concerns about certain testing requirements that states must meet to receive federal grant money, Lehane said, citing the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, a grant program tied to states’ implemention of testing standards, as one example.

“The testing has become too frequent and too high-stakes,” Lehane said.

But RIDE stated that Common Core standards do not call for the adoption of a specific curriculum, leaving local authorities jurisdiction.

“The standards are just statements about what kids should be able to do at each grade level,” said Elliot Krieger, public information officer at RIDE.

Still, many parents and teachers are concerned that education will rely too heavily on standardized testing and that teacher evaluations will be based on test results rather than portfolios, Lehane said. By giving more funding to states that adopt Common Core, the federal government has strong-armed its way around the laws that put education under local jurisdiction, she added.

Lehane expressed concern that many private education companies influenced the shaping of the Common Core standards, adding that the Federal Educational Records Privacy Act has become too lenient when granting students’ academic data to third parties, including marketing researchers who want to make new profitable products geared toward Common Core standards.

But RIDE pushed back against this claim, saying federal grants and national lobbying influences were not the main drivers behind the program’s implementation.

“We received a federal Race to the Top grant under the condition that we adopt world-class standards, and in our case, the world-class standards were Common Core,” Krieger said. “The decision to adopt Common Core goes back further than the grants.”

The concerns about Common Core have also risen at the national level, with each of the states approaching the standards with criticisms of federal overreach and action to counter the standards. Conservative candidates for elections in states have campaigned on repealing Common Core if elected, the New York Times reported.

In Alabama, Arizona and Florida, state legislators, many of whom sympathize with the Tea Party and conservative political branches, have introduced or passed legislation to weaken the Common Core, according to the Chicago Sun-Times assessment of the 50 different states’ approaches to the standards. And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced August 27 that he sued the Department of Education over the implementation of the standards and the use of federal funds as motivation for standardizing the testing in states.

Some anti-Common Core activists feel they are being kept uninformed about the program, Lehane said. “Nobody really knew about the standards until they were implemented.”

But some experts said the main cause of the rising discontent is low parental awareness of what the standards actually do.

“There is a gap in communication between the system and the parents,” Wong said. The “National Opinion Research Center found that about half of the parents are not aware of what Common Core standards are about.”

Some teachers have raised doubts about the fairness of the teacher evaluation component of Common Core. But Krieger said this component is critical to making teachers aware of what they need to impart in the classroom.

Sheryl Green, a Rhode Island middle school teacher who requested that her school district be withheld so as not to disparage her school, said Common Core calls for an increase in frequency of teacher evaluations, mandating that every teacher be evaluated annually.

“Your kids have to improve, and if they don’t you’re in jeopardy of having a poor evaluation,” Green said.

The Common Core standards represent the “knowledge that teachers should be helping students obtain,” Krieger said.

But some teachers are concerned that the standards demand too much of them, causing students to suffer.

“The teachers are evaluated by a huge rubric. Instead of having room for creativity and freedom of knowing what works best in the classroom, you have to make sure that your lesson covers everything in the rubric, and it’s way too much,” Green said.

  • Hockey

    These parents have good points and should have a say in their children’s education. Wonder why the people who are in charge won’t listen?