By Len Lazarick and Duane Keenan
But scores of parents from across Maryland told legislators they want to junk the whole thing altogether. They came to the House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday to support Del. Michael Smigiel’s bill (HB76) totally repealing the new standards.
Their reasons ranged from the political to the pedagogic. They objected to the new computerized tests being imposed and to the untested teaching methods. They invoked the Constitution, copyright law, corporate conspiracies and common sense.
Parents and grandparents told tales of frustrated children confused and slipping behind as they tried to learn under the new standards.
Smigiel’s bill prohibits the State Board of Education, and county boards from establishing curriculum and guidelines that include, or are based on, the Common Core standards. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and state school superintendents, but are being pushed by the U.S. Department of Education with Race to the Top funding.
Slow down, Smigiel says
“We need to take a slow and informed approach before deciding to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a program that is untested,” said Smigiel, R-Cecil.
“The claim is that there are 44 states out there that are currently adopting this, but actually there is less than half of that now,” Smigiel told the committee. Many of the states that formerly supported Common Core are now backing off, he claimed, due to problems with the implementation of the new standards.
These standards have not been tested and proven, Smigiel said. Those supporting Common Core have ignored what the parents, teachers and unions wanted.
He noted that the Common Core materials are copyrighted, so local school boards are limited in how much they can change them to meet their own needs and that “stifles teacher creativity.”
He was also concerned about the data collection that follows the students for life And it could cost about $100 million more, just for testing.
A legislative analyst said repeal of Common Core could be costly as well.
“The bill’s requirements will put the State out of compliance with the federal Race to the Top grant and jeopardize up to $250 million in grant funds,” said the bill’s fiscal note. “The bill’s requirements will also put the state out of compliance with the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act … jeopardizing up to $280.9 million in federal Title I and other federal funds until new assessments are developed .”
Parents testify about problems
Clair Sumner of Annapolis, a kindergarten teacher and the mother of three school-age children, said, “A lot of teachers are deathly afraid to speak out against Common Core.” Sumner said the grades for her son were going down, and the only change was the use of Common Core instruction.
CORRECTED 1:52 P.M. 2/7/2014 Jason Laird
Leahr of Frederick County focused on the outside funding to develop Common Core. “The Gates Foundation has spent over 200 million dollars so far to push Common Core on the states, unions, and para-school organizations,” Laird Leahr said.
He noted that the Common Core standards require computers, and there could be a conflict of interest with the chairman of Microsoft.
Darren Wigfield from Frederick County, where he’s running for delegate, said that Maryland schools test at the top, but Common Core does not provide such high standards. He wanted to know why “lowering our educational standards in Maryland to that of the rest of the country would adequately prepare our students to be competitive in this workforce.”
Cindy Rose of Knoxville in Frederick County was concerned about how Common Core would impact those physically and developmentally delayed.
“Common Core disregards the learning abilities and differences in all grades… mostly evident in special education and the English language learner classes,” Rose said. She noted that parents were left out of the decision-making process, and that PTA organizations and teacher unions were paid to support Common Core.
Common Core versus common sense
Margaret Bibble talked about Common Core versus common sense. She wondered why we would “commit millions of taxpayer dollars to implement something that has not been tested or proven as effective.” She warned about taking the word of “salespeople” for an unproven product because “making an informed decision, based on evidence, is just common sense.”
Joy Hutter noted that Maryland adopted the standards in June of 2010, before the standards were finished.
Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, known in Annapolis for his conservative views, said, “we were fooled” about Common Core.
“I’ve actually witnessed parents crying” over Common Core problems with their children, Rothschild said. “Teachers are furious and frustrated.”
“We have a serious morale problem, we have a drain on scarce resources,” the commissioner said.
NAACP strongly opposes repeal
Eldridge James of the NAACP said that they want Common Core done properly and timely, and not rushed.
Education consultant Barbara Dezmon, also representing the NAACP, said the problem with the Common Core is its implementation. She said that it was vetted prior to being released, and that it is more rigorous than the existing Maryland School Assessment.
Dezmon said the new PARCC testing being developed for Common Core was a “vendors’ dream” with “businesses coming in like sharks, and I find it reprehensible.”
She noted that testing can be done on some of the computers schools already own, and new computers for testing can be used for other purposes as well.
Dezmon said that some of Maryland’s existing standards are in alignment with Common Core and she sees it as “not as an intrusion, it was meant… as a guide… [It is] not the feds taking over education.”
The Maryland State Education Association, representing 70,000 educators, also opposes outright repeal and supports the new standards, but said Common Core needs more time, money and resources to “get it right.”
State education department resists repeal
The most ardent opponent of repeal was Jack Smith, chief academic officer of the Maryland State Department of Education. He insisted that curriculum decisions will still be made locally and said removing the standards would be “a tremendous detriment to moving schools ahead and providing an opportunity for every single child.”
Smith said that he knows why people have concerns, but he is opposed to repealing the standards and curriculum. The department is willing to talk with people about implementation, and confronting what he called “the brutal facts.”
Committee members were skeptical of some of the arguments for repeal.
“Most teachers I talk to agree that Common Core is the way to go,” Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s, told Smigiel. “They may have some problems with the implementation.”
Del. Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick, said at the Frederick County school board, “They’re telling me they’re ready to go.”
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