Opinions differing on Common Core Standards

11/9/2013

Recent speakers debunk CCS; USD 457 school board supports them.

Recent speakers debunk CCS; USD 457 school board supports them.

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Opinions on Common Core Standards, also known as College and Career Readiness Standards, are as varied as some of the information out there regarding the origin and development of the education initiative.

On Tuesday night, the grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity-Kansas presented an event at Garden City Community College, where Dr. Mary Byrne, co-founding member of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, and Kristen George, co-founder of Kansans Against Common Core, shared information and their own views on the standards.

USD 457 Board of Education members, administrators and teachers from Garden City and other areas of southwest Kansas attended.

George, from Pratt, said having a 5-year-old and 2-year-old prompted her to take a closer look at the Common Core Standards a few months ago. After learning more about it, she decided it wasn't something she wanted to see in her children's educational futures.

"For most parents, we all know how unique our kids are. Even having two, they are so different, so the idea that we can standardize something and make it common for their education, that's not something that I feel is the right way to go with my kids and their entire education ahead of them," George said.

Byrne, who has a master's of education degree in instructional design and a doctorate in special education, spoke for 45 minutes, sharing her own research into Common Core standards. Byrne said one common misconception is that the standards are state led. She referred to a copy of the July 29, 2009, Federal Register.

"You have to ask yourself the question, 'If this is state led, why is it in a federal register?'" Byrne said.

She also said that the Common Core Standards are copyrighted by two non-governmental organizations, the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

"They are copyrighted to Washington-based, non-governmental organizations that have no accountability to you, that are unelected, that are the trade organizations of governors and the commissioners of education," she said.

Byrne also referenced Race to the Top, which according to www.whitehouse.gov, is an initiative that aligns policies and structures to the goal of college and career readiness.

To date, President Obama's Race to the Top initiative has dedicated more than $4 billion to 19 states that have created robust plans addressing the four key areas of K-12 education reform, described as: development of rigorous standards and better assessments; adoption of better data systems to provide schools, teachers and parents with information about student progress; support for teachers and school leaders to become more effective; and increased emphasis and resources for the rigorous interventions needed to turn around the lowest-performing schools.

"So what you hear in the news media is Race to the Top is the culprit because all states had to agree in their grant application to Race to the Top, to adopt a common set of standards," Byrne said. "And whether or not you have the money, you still had to implement those standards. That's not entirely the story. Before Race to the Top, governors were offered state fiscal stabilization funds, a one-time pot of money, 10 times larger than Race to the Top. Both of those pots of money were funded by the American Recovery Reinvestment Act."

She added that governors had to provide an assurance that they would pursue the four key areas of K-12 education reform in order to receive their share of funds from the Recovery Act.

"So your governors, in exchange for money, turned over the standards of your state's education system to non-governmental organizations. Were you aware of that four years ago when it happened?" she said. "See, this isn't recent. We're only having the discussion now, and that was set in motion four years ago by the governors of the state."

She said that then-Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson signed the application for the state fiscal stabilization fund in May 2009, and in doing so, also provided the assurance that Kansas would pursue the four key areas of K-12 education reform, which Byrne referred to as the four assurances. From that, the state received $301 million.

"You were worth $301 million. That's what your governor got for turning over the copyright, your ownership of a copyright of English Language Arts," Byrne said.

Byrne also said that several private entities funded the Common Core Standards, including Pearson, GE, McGraw Hill, Scholastic and billionaire Bill Gates.

Byrne said one of the real impetuses behind the standards is, "workforce planning for corporations to train their employees prior to graduation. So it's at your cost, the taxpayer dollars, not at their cost, the employers."

Byrne also said that, through her research, she found the company Achieve developed the American Diploma Project in 2004, which she said was the set of standards for English and mathematics.

"That American Diploma Project is what was the seminal document used as the foundation for the Common Core Standards, so the Common Core Standards were not a brand new set of standards developed by an innovative group and a cross section of professionals across the country. I mean, I looked at the membership list. This was not a representation across the country, and there were no Kansans in the development or the feedback group," she said.

Both Byrne and George encouraged those on hand to research the standards themselves.

"We just want parents to stand up, contact your legislators, attend school board meetings," George said.

Jean Clifford, USD 457 board member, attended the event. She said she supports the standards but wants to keep an open mind.

"It appeared to me that Dr. Byrnes believes that Common Core is an intrusion by our federal government to determine what students should learn and that this has been, in the past, and should be in the future, a state and local decision," Clifford said. "She really described a very complicated series of ties between the federal government, state governments, textbook publishers and various organizations and individuals, including Bill Gates, to support her position."

Clifford said that she has spoken to some of the individuals involved in writing and creating the standards and that from those conversations, she believes they are just as they have been represented — a coordinated effort by states to improve the country's educational system.

"I think it's an idea whose time has come, and I'm pretty excited to see us move in that direction," she said.

Like Byrne and George, Clifford said she hopes people will start doing their own research into the standards.

"I hope the general public will take the time to took at all the different aspects and what benefits could come from Common Core and that if there are issues, that they come forward with them," she said.

The USD 457 Board of Education has been preparing its own presentation about the standards, to be shared at the Kansas Association of School Boards' annual meeting Dec. 6 to 8 in Wichita.

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