by Jack Minor
A Massachusetts school committee has petitioned their legislature to opt out of Federal education standards which most states have adopted in attempt to get federal funding during lean budget times.
The Tantasqua Regional School Committee, the equivalent of our local Board of Education, is working with their state legislature to allow them to opt out of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
School Committee Chairman Kathleen Neal told the Gazette committee members are concerned with the cost of implementing the program as well as the way the standards were adopted with little public input last year.
The Massachusetts Core initiative was adopted during the summer and Neal said the committee had no idea it was being discussed until after the vote was passed with almost no notice to the general public. “If you are going to change the way you do assessments you should bring the people who are invested in it to the table.” She expressed frustration at state officials lack of asking the local districts for solutions.
The state is currently number one in education so there is no need for the state to change their standards Neal said. “We have had an excellent curriculum that we have used for the past several years and it has produced excellent results.” She went on to say she believes one of the main reasons for passing the Core standards was to receive federal funding for state schools.
She said they are always studying local results to determine where individual shortfalls are in order to tweak the curriculum wherever needed. “We have a local study group that comes together to look at curriculum and textbooks.”
The district is suffering from many of the same budget concerns that District 6 is facing. Neal said they have parental support in the district which is one of the keys to success.
The Core standards were created to adopt a common set of standards that all states would teach to. Adoption of the standards was held out to states as a key component of qualifying for Race to the Top federal funds. At a time of school budget shortfalls in all states there is increasing attempts to obtain funding by any means possible.
The Core standards were adopted in Colorado after four hours of hearing with almost all speaking against the proposal. The vote to adopt the standards was passed on a narrow 4-3 vote. Many considered the vote approving the standards to be mainly about money. Passage of the proposal was considered key to keeping the state in the running for Race to the Top federal funding. Neal said the Tantasqua Committee did not apply for the Race to the Top funds.
Race to the Top was mentioned by members of the District 6 board of education during last years budget debate as possible ways to help overcome the budget shortfall.
Critics of the Core standards claim they will take authority away from local districts and permit the federal government to adopt a one size fits all approach to local education.
Supporters of the standards claim they are necessary in order to prepare students to compete in a global economy. They also claim that the standards do not mandate any particular type of lesson plan or curriculum.
At the time the standards were adopted by Colorado and other states the final details were not settled. Critics say this could cause the standards to generate a “one size fits all” approach to curriculum and teaching.
A statement issued by a bipartisan group of educators, business and labor leaders stated their support for common state standards. The statement was published on the Albert Shanker Institute website. The institute is a research group associated with the American Federation of Teachers.
The statement acknowledged resistance to the standards saying many consider it “overly controversial” and that the U.S. has a long history of local control which it calls “narrow-minded political orthodoxy” that “is deeply ingrained in our political sensibility beginning with our Constitution’s delegation of education’s governance to the states.”
While it said Core standards are not a straitjacket it went on to say the curriculum is intended to be standardized among the states saying “To be clear, by ‘curriculum’ we mean a coherent, sequential set of guidelines in the core academic disciplines, specifying the content knowledge and skills that all students are expected to learn, over time, in a thoughtful progression across the grades.”
The curriculum is intended to occupy up to 60 percent of current classroom time. Currently the curriculum only applies to English language arts and mathematics but the intention is to eventually cover other areas including history, geography, science, arts, foreign languages, technology, health and physical education.
It went on to acknowledge that one of the purposes for Common standards is to have uniform assessments for every state. They also claim this would enable teacher evaluations to be uniform among all the states as teachers will all be teaching the same thing.
Among their recommendations are a group of experts including teachers, cognitive scientists and assessment authorities to judge the quality and relevance of textbooks and classroom materials. They also recommend the federal government spend money on helping to implement the standards.
Prior to passing the Common States initiative Colorado had begun to move farther away from local control. The Education Accountability act enabled the state to accredit school districts. The law created a system of ratings where individual schools would be accredited by their districts by submitting an academic achievement plan.
The information is then presented by the local districts to the state which accredits the individual school districts.