A crowd of parents, grandparents and taxpayers from the Saco-Biddeford area gathered at Saco City Hall on Wednesday evening to learn more about the controversial education initiative known as the Common Core State Standards.
The meeting was organized by No Common Core Maine (NCCM), a group of citizen-activists who raising awareness about Common Core.
Heidi Sampson, a member of the Maine State Board of Education, Maine Charter School Commission and NCCM, said more than 70 people turned out to listen for three hours as education experts Jamie Gass and Sandra Stotsky of the Pioneer Institute discussed Common Core and its implications for Maine students.
“Folks kept asking questions and were very engaged,” said Sampson. “People just didn’t want to leave,” she said.
Gass, who is the director of the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform, began the evening speaking broadly about education policy in America. Gass described the conflict in education in terms of two competing approaches to American education.
“The first one was driven by some of the ideas of Milton Friedman,” he said. “[Friedman] said the way to invigorate parental and student participation in schooling is to create a free market of choices – charter schools, vocational schools, parochial schools.” But the opposing view, said Gass, was that the United States needed to incrementally discard the idea of federalism in education. It is the latter view which Gass believes is reflected in the federal Department of Education and Common Core.
Gass then talked about the Pioneer Institute’s work assessing Common Core. The Institute, he said, brought together several education experts, including Stotsky, to review the standards and compare them to those in place in other states.
“We said, ‘Look, give us your honest assessment of the academic quality of Common Core against high standards states… and they did these extensive 40-50 page detailed analyses of Common Core,” he said. “And they found that every step of the way – every single draft of common core including the final one, that Common Core, in both English and math, was of significantly lower quality than what high standards states had,” he said. “So this was not a race to the top, it was a race to the middle.”
As for the financial cost of adopting Common Core, Gass said that no proponent of the standards had ever endeavored to produce an estimate.
Commisioner of Administrative and Financial Services Sawin Millett told The Maine Wire that Maine has not spent any tax dollars implementing Common Core, “as implementation of any State education standards is entirely a locally determined process.”
“We do not know how much, if any, local cost has been incurred as the Department of Education does not require schools to report how they locally choose to expend their professional development funds at the school unit level,” said Millett. He added that once the Common Core aligned assessments begin in the Spring of 2015, testing costs are projected to be lower than current assessment costs due to the economies of scale of having assessments in common with multiple other states.
However, the cost estimate Pioneer came up with for implementing Common Core in all 50 states was about $16 billion. In Maine, Gass estimates the cost will be $85-90 million. “The big driver of costs will be buying new Common Core-aligned text books, and there will be huge technological costs,” he said.
Gass called NCCM’s ballot initiative a “huge opportunity” for concerned citizens to spread awareness about Common Core before it’s too late.
Stotsky, who served on the Common Core validation committee, is a renowned expert in education standards. She is professor emerita of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, a former member of the Massachusetts Department of Education, and a member of the advisory board for Pioneer’s Center for School Reform.
“Common Core standards are not rigorous,” said Stotsky. “This may come as a shock to people who see the word rigorous used every other word when people are talking about Common Core,” she said.
Stotsky said Common Core does not set standards for pre-calculus course, a full trigonometry course or a full algebra two course. She said this would be a major setback for students wishing to pursue a STEM major – Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics.
“There is no way students in a Common Core curriculum can get to a STEM major in college,” said Stotsky. “If you want to be a STEM major in a four year college, you must begin in your freshman year, typically with a calculus course. And there is no way that Common Core’s standards will get any student ready for a calculus course, either in grade 12 or in college.”
Stotsky also challenged the notion that Common Core’s standards are competitive with education standards in other countries.
“Common Core’s standards are not internationally bench-marked and will not make any of our students more competitive,” she said. “If you’re not going to have students capable of taking a STEM pipeline – which is what Congress thought it was going to get out of these standards – and [the standards] are not internationally bench-marked… then our students will not be competitive,” she said. “They will become the janitors of the world instead.”
Stotsky said the standards were designed to facilitate not excellence, but egalitarian outcomes. “You have to understand that here are some definite and deliberate built-in limitations,” she said. “They were designed to allow the middle 40 percent of grade 11 students to enroll in credit bearing course in non-selective college,” she said. “They weren’t designed for the top 20 to 30 percent.”
She was sharply critical of the validation committee – a group of so-called experts tasked with approving the standards. She was the only person on that committee, which she called “invalid”, with experience in English and Language Arts. She said the committee was filled not with high school teachers, but representatives of testing companies and education schools. She said the committee was designed to be a “rubber-stamp.”
“There was no external validation by independent experts, which is what I’ve been calling for for the last three years,” she said. “If you want to make sure that something really is straight, and on the up and up, you get external, independent, outside experts to come and give their opinion. U.S. Department of Ed could have done it, but it didn’t, because it was busy creating Race to the Top competitive grants to entice boards of education to adopt these standards.”
“We will be losing all our parental rights – from curriculum to privacy – once Common Core is fully implemented next year,” said Sampson.
The movement to repeal the Common Core standards in Maine via a citizens initiative is being led by the Maine Equal Rights Center.
Advocates say they are aiming to have a repeal Common Core question on the ballot in the November 2014 election.
Note: This article was edited to state that the Maine Equal Rights Center, not No Common Core Maine, is gathering signatures for a ballot referendum.
Maine Wire Reporter