WHITMAN — Opponents of the Common Core curriculum and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing were urged to take part in Lobby Day at the Statehouse on Wednesday, April 15 and push back against state participation in the programs.
Lobby Day provided the opportunity for Common Core/PARCC opponents to talk to legislators on seven bills ranging from pausing PARCC implementation, providing IT requirements and district opt-outs to a moratorium on high-stakes testing and forming state education standards.
An informational meeting on the issue, the second in the W-H Regional School District this year was held at Whitman Town Hall Auditorium on Thursday, April 9. The forum, hosted by Whitman-Hanson Against Common Core (WHACC) featured state Rep. Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, and education standards experts Michael Sentence, who was instrumental in the formation of Massachusetts’ Education Reform Act in the 1990s, and former State Board of Education member Dr. Sandra Stotsky as guest speakers.
Common Core Forum steering committee member Shanon Dahlstrom of Chelmsford was the evening’s moderator.
“We’re spreading the word and connecting parents and trying to facilitate more conversation around the state about this issue,” Dahlstrom said.
Diehl said when he first ran for state representative in 2009, federal Race to the Top funds amounting to $250 million — connected to the Common Core — were accepted with no public hearings held on the issue.
“That was the beginning of Common Core for Massachusetts,” he said. The program has worked to sidestep federal law prohibiting a federal curriculum by working through the National Governors Association, according to Diehl.
“They were asking the states to buy, sight unseen, this new education plan,” he said, comparing it to implementation of the Affordable Care Act. “If you think driving to the State House, or talking to your legislators is a waste of time — it isn’t. Please come.”
Sentence, a former state secretary of education, said the Common Core undermines “one of the great success stories in public policy in this country,” the Massachusetts Education Reform Act.
“This is not a small change that has happened,” Sentence said. “This is an enormous amount of change.”
Massachusetts was 12th in the nation and fourth in New England on grade eight math scores when education reform was signed into law in 1993 requiring that state standards had to be comparable to the educationally advanced countries in the world. By 2007, Massachusetts was first in the country in grade eight math scores and competitive with several global leaders, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“Our worst students are average elsewhere, above average in a whole lot of other states — that’s how good we are,” Sentence said. “This is a tremendous success story. … That’s what’s at risk.”
MCAS test questions were also released after testing each year, while PARCC test questions are an unknown entity, he charged. Stotsky agreed with Sentence, and reviewed some of her reasons for refusing to sign off on Common Core standards.
“I was interested in raising everybody’s achievement, not just low-achieving groups,” she said. “All kids needed to do better.”
She was also concerned about a lack of subject experts to write content standards and the need to improve skill sets of teachers through tougher licensing tests.
Among the flaws she sees in Common Core are that the standards are skills, not literary or historic content standards, they place emphasis on writing over reading and that the standards are poorly drafted.
“You can have variation from teacher to teacher, class to class, school to school,” Stotsky said. “I couldn’t even begin to tell you what your own schools are doing.”
She is also concerned that future teachers are being trained to Common Core standards. Among her suggestions to remedy the situation, Stotsky advocates petitioning to “get rid of our state Board of Education and Department of Education in every state” for approving Common Core, a prescription with which Sentence disagrees.
“I’m thinking of getting rid of a useless appendage,” Stotsky said.
“We don’t agree on everything,” he said. “I think, as the process showed in the 1990s, even with a pretty dysfunctional board, when you have real academic rigor you get great results and it’s the quality of the people that matters.”
Sentence also said local districts can put their own stamp on what their students learn.
“Whether the state acts wisely or not, you still have the obligation to act wisely,” he said.