CONCORD — The battle lines are being drawn over the state Board of Education decision to implement the controversial Common Core standards statewide.
Conservative groups opposing the standards and the testing that goes with them have held the spotlight in recent weeks. A forum recently hosted by Common Core opponents at St. Anselm College drew a standing-room-only crowd, and a large turnout before the Manchester Board of Education last week cheered the decision by the state’s largest city to reject the standards.
Now supporters are fighting back. The Business and Industry Association, which sees the standards as key toward creating an educated workforce, came out in support of the Common Core late last week, and the state Board of Education has scheduled a day-long information session for lawmakers next Tuesday at the State House, where at least two bills have been filed to delay or upend the program.
Are the new standards a good-faith effort to improve the outcomes of public education for a mobile society in which children often move from state to state? Or are they a costly, defective, one-size-fits all mandate that extends federal authority over education, imposes questionable testing standards and raises privacy concerns? It all depends on your point of view.
“The first thing we are going to do is get a more fair and balanced approach on getting information out there,” said Board of Education Chairman Tom Raffio, who will oversee a panel discussion at the Oct. 29 State House event. “We have to get away from the rhetoric and help our legislators to hear the truth. Is it (Common Core) perfect? No, but it is a baseline to start from, and if a local district wants to make the standards better, then so be it.”
Raffio was alluding to the decision by the Manchester Board of School Committee to develop “Manchester Academic Standards” that would draw upon Common Core, among other sources.
Although the Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010, and many districts in the state are well along the path toward implementation, the issue was not grabbing headlines in the state until recently.
Until Manchester’s decision, Alton was the only school district in the state to vote against implementing Common Core. Last week, school officials in Nashua agreed to discuss a delay of two years.
The Business and Industry Association, the statewide chamber of commerce, decided to enter the fray on Oct. 16, when the association announced that its board of directors had voted unanimously to support what they called “the more rigorous educational standards.”
The standards do not establish curriculum, but outline what students should know, or what tasks they should be able to complete, upon graduation from each grade level, kindegarten through 12. Critics argue they are not rigorous enough.
“The BIA is in the final stages of completing a strategic economic plan for New Hampshire and educating our state’s emerging workforce plays a key role in our future economic prosperity,” said BIA President Jim Roche.
“The focus on math and related skills that are a part of the Common Core complements the focus on increased STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education called for the strategic economic plan, which will be released in November.”
The lack of skilled workers in key sectors of the state economy has emerged as a recurring theme among state leaders in business, industry and academia for the past two years.
“A robust advanced manufacturing and high-technology sector is critical to New Hampshire’s future economic success,” said Roche. “BIA believes the Common Core is an important part of ensuring our future workforce has the education and skills necessary to fill these high-paying, challenging jobs.”
The lobbying on both sides is likely to intensify as the Legislature returns for its next session. One bill has already been filed by Rep. Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack, that would prohibit the state from implementing Common Core. Another bill aimed in that direction has been filed by Rep. David Murotake, R-Nashua.
The position taken by the American Federation of Teachers illustrates how left-leaning groups are also torn on the issue. The AFT is supportive, but has called for a moratorium on using the tests associated with Common Core to evaluate teachers, at least until they can be better trained in the new standards.
AFT-NH President Laura Hainey finds the prospect of intervention by state lawmakers ironic. “It drives me crazy,” she said. “You have a group of people who say, ‘We don’t want interference from government,’ and they are trying to block, through government interference, what you can do at the local level.”