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November 13. 2013 11:54AM

Common Core: Two opposing views


Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, said Indiana should readopt its previous standards because they were "far superior" to Common Core. (Ellie Price/TheStateHouseFile.com)
Both sides in the Common Core debate accuse each other of lying to support their cause, but in most cases, they are arguing over differences of opinion, colored by their politics. Here are some examples, drawn from Marc Tucker's presentation in Concord, with counter-arguments from opponents such as Sandra Stotsky:

Common Core was created by the Obama administration and represents federal standards, not state standards.

The standards were almost fully developed by the time President Obama took office, but the Obama Administration is a strong supporter of the standards and made adopting the standards a small portion of the criteria for states to receive Race to the Top Funding, a separate educational grant program.

The move to adopt Common Core nationally and the opening of the Race to the Top application period occurred around the same time, prompting opponents to link the two as a quid pro quo.

"One of the questions on the application was, has the state adopted college- or career-ready standards that are similar to other states?" says Heather Gage, Division of Instruction director and chief of staff for the New Hampshire Department of Education. "It accounted for 8 percent of the total score."

According to Stotsky, who served as an associate commissioner of education in the Bay State, "A Race to the Top grant for $250 million was promised to Massachusetts if it adopted Common Core's standards."

The White House on its own website appears to link the two, posting, "While 19 states have received (Race to the Top) funding so far, 34 states modified state education laws or policies to facilitate needed change, and 48 states worked together to create a voluntary set of rigorous college- and career-ready standards."

Common Core is the first step toward a nationalized education system.

Opponents warn that with most states using the same standards and taking the same standardized tests, the United States will have a nationalized education system. Supporters point out that the standards are designed to ensure that outcomes are similar from state to state, but each state will chart its own course on how to get there.

The Constitution reserves decisions about education policy to the states, and the U.S. Department of Education is prohibited from dictating curriculum.

Opponents say the federal government has a history of using its purse strings to command compliance and that the trend will only be enhanced with Common Core. Supporters point out that education is still primarily funded at the state and municipal level, with the federal government contributing only 10 percent of total costs on average.

Tucker says the Constitution does not prohibit a pact among the states to agree on common standards. Opponents say the standards were not approved by state legislatures but by the education bureaucracy.

Common Core is unproven and an experiment on our children.

Tucker admits the standards are unproven, but says there is no such thing as a proven standard. "A standard is by definition an aspiration," he said. "In this case, it is what a society wants for its children. You cannot prove that a standard is right or wrong, that it works or does not work. You can either embrace a standard or choose not to."

Opponents argue that there is plenty of proof that the mathematics standards that were in place in Massachusetts, for example, produced great results, yet were not copied by Common Core.

Common Core standards are less rigorous than what is currently in place.

Stotsky, whose expertise is in English, decries the English standards as overly focused on informational text versus English literature. A leading mathematician who served on the validation committee for math, James Milgram, refused to sign off on the math standards because he felt they were too low.

Supporters maintain that it would be impossible to have any standards endorsed unanimously, particularly in such a divisive and partisan political climate. But they say, except for Stotsky and Milgram and a handful of other academicians, there has been widespread support of the standards among the majority of educators and experts on the various committees involved.

When the current commissioner of education in Massachusetts took office, he commissioned studies comparing the Massachusetts state standards to the Common Core, Tucker said. "Both reported that the Common Core standards are at least as high, if not higher, than the Massachusetts standards."

Stotsky questions the independence and motives of the research agencies involved.

The Smarter Balanced standardized test, associated with Common Core, will pose a significant threat to student and family privacy as results are shared and used for commercial purposes by the test developers.

States have the option to share student records and test results with researchers, education officials and software developers, thus creating a scenario for what Glenn Beck has called a massive attack on the privacy of Americans by the federal government.

Gage, at the state Department of Education, points out that existing New Hampshire law would forbid participation in such an exchange by New Hampshire. Several other states have indicated they won't participate.

Gage said the Smarter Balanced test does not seek any personal data that has not been previously provided on the NECAP tests taken by New Hampshire students, and there has never been any problem with that data collection among the six states in the New England consortium.

The test does not ask students to provide information on their parent's political or religious affiliations, as some opponents have claimed.

Whether or not states participate in the data exchange, the results will be in a computer somewhere, and opponents fear access by hackers.

Student test scores will plummet on the Smarter Balanced test when compared with the current NECAP statewide assessment.

No one denies this is likely, which would appear to contradict the argument that Common Core is a dummying down of existing standards. By and large, opponents have argued that the standards are too advanced at the elementary level, requiring abstract thought beyond the grasp of young children, and dummied down at the high school level, only going as far as Algebra 1 in math.

The fear of lower scores is primarily in the lower grades.

In any case, supporters say there is no point in making a comparison. The first round of Smarter Balanced test scores will not be bench-marked against the last round of NECAP scores, but will create a new benchmark from which future progress will be monitored.

The Smarter Balanced test has to be taken on a computer, forcing schools to invest millions in technology, which amounts to an unfunded mandate.

There is a three-year transition period during which a paper test option will be available, said Gage, but afterward, schools will need the resources for all children to take the test on a computer. That does not mean schools will need one computer for every student.

The testing takes place over a 12-week period, allowing time for students to be scheduled through a school computer lab. "Would I ever say that all kids are ready to take an online assessment? Of course not," said Gage. "But I also believe we have the ability to get kids where we need them to be, and that's our job as educators."

Smarter Balanced essay questions will be graded by a computer, not a human being.

The longer essay questions will be scored by a "real person," according to Gage, but shorter essays and multiple choice answers will be computergraded.

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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