USD 457 board member testifies on Common Core standards




USD 457 Board of Education member Lara Bors traveled to Topeka Wednesday to testify against a bill aimed at nullifying Common Core standards.

If passed, House Bill 2621 would reverse a 2010 State Board of Education decision to adopt Common Core standards for math and reading, as well as the Next Generation science standards that are already being taught.

Bors had offered to testify at Wednesday's hearing in front of the House Education Committee during Monday night's school board meeting. Testmonies were limited to 90 seconds per person. Bors opened by saying she was speaking as a school board member, a parent, the spouse of a sixth-grade teacher and as a small business owner.

"I was able to get across two of the points that I don't think had necessarily been hit on by others who testified," she said. "There were obviously a lot more things that I wanted to say. But (one of the things) I hit on were the differences I've seen between my son, Henry, who's known nothing but Common Core and then my son who just started this year."

Henry is in second grade; Carl is in third.

As a parent, Bors told the committee she has seen a significant difference between her two sons.

"Until recently, there was a definite difference between the academic vocabulary of my second-grader and my third-grader. My second-grader, in even general conversation, was using the sentence stems that he had been taught to prove his points at home. My third-grader is beginning to catch up, but it was incredible to see the difference between the two standards that they had grown up in," Bors said.

The world her children are growing up in expects them to analyze information and make informed decisions, she added, as well as to work collaboratively with others and exhibit the ability to be innovative and creative with problem solving.

"The former education standards are not adequate to meet the higher expectations demanded by an ever-changing society," she said. "In contrast, the explicit aim of the new standards is to prepare students for success in college and careers. Preparing students for a successful future means that our schools need to have higher expectations for all students and provide the support for students to meet those higher expectations. The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards will do just that. They include more opportunities for students to be self-directed, learn to take a position and justify their answers. Unlike the former standards, there is a significant focus on writing, which leads to better problem solving and deeper thinking."

Bors also shared her perspective of the standards as a school board member, who was speaking on behalf of USD 457 teachers.

"The district conducts board/faculty meetings at each of our schools throughout the year," she testified. "At each one that I have attended or have received feedback from, there has been little to no criticism of the College and Career Ready Standards by our teachers; in fact, there has been virtually universal support for the transition. At one meeting, one of our faculty members said that he was excited that instead of teaching 26 miles wide and an inch deep, he could teach a foot wide and six feet deep."

The standards allow teachers to determine, locally, what is taught and how the curriculum is delivered, she said.

"In the past, teachers have been forced to cover content with little depth in order to fit everything in that appeared on the assessments. By contrast, the new standards give educators more time to focus on depth of understanding. As a result, they allow local districts to develop curricula to foster deeper thinking and metacognition," she said.

Bors, who owns and operates her own legal practice, also testified from the perspective of a small business owner who has faced challenges in finding employees who can think critically, have a high reading level and are able to effectively communicate.

She also challenged critics of CCRS who have claimed that they were developed without input from Kansas educators.

"I know this to be untrue," she told the committee. "Kansas educators had input on this; among the many was (Leigh Ann Roderick) the Director of Elementary Education in Garden City, who served on the state level committee providing feedback on the development of the standards. House Bill 2621 would declare null and void the very standards that involved a lot of time and hard work on the part of educators across Kansas."

Bors counted at least four of those educators who testified in favor of CCRS who were involved in its development.

In a separate interview, Bors said she observed two major objections to the standards at Wednesday's hearing.

"The parents who were complaining about it, about half of them said that the math homework was too easy and half of them said the math homework was too hard. That's an implementation issue. That has nothing to with whether those standards are good or bad, in my opinion. It's how that individual teacher is implementing Common Core in the classroom," Bors said. "The other issue that I thought was at least somewhat valid, was concern for the data that's being collected, especially in this day and age of computer hackers. I can certainly understand that concern, but I don't think they need to worry about it, because it's something that's essentially been planned for, because we've been collecting data for years," Bors said, adding that the data is test scores, which were already being collected under No Child Left Behind.

None of the data being collected is personal information, she pointed out.

"They felt that it was personal information that people would have access to, and it's not, but that's what they're afraid of. One of the parents was concerned about someone stealing his 9-year-old's identity," she said.

She believes the concerns about CCRS are largely based on misinformation.

"There are a lot of rumors that are going around and misinformation that's getting out there, when there is other information out there (that contradicts those rumors)," she said.

Bors concluded her testimony by telling the committee that if the bill becomes law and the CCRS are declared null and void, that they will be, in essence, tying the hands of teachers and limiting their ability to teach and that they will have decreased children's chances to successfully compete in a global economy that values critical thinking skills.

"I urge you to read the standards; is there anything in these standards that you do not want your children or grandchildren to learn? As for my family, I know these are skills I want my children to have," she said.

It isn't the first time legislation aimed at repealing the CCRS has been proposed. During last year's lawmaking session, a similar bill was approved by the Senate but later died in the House.

If the bill passes, an advisory council would be established to develop new guidelines to replace the existing standards. That fact is something that USD 459 Superintendent Dr. Kelly Arnberger says is one of his main issues with the bill. He also testified Wednesday.

"Honestly, the one big issue is this advisory board," Arnsberger said in a separate interview. "We already elect 10 board members to serve on the State Board of Education, who do everything that was talked about — open meetings, research, working with the State Department of Education — all of those things are taking place with an elected body at the state level. We have an elected body at the local level. The College and Career Readiness Standards are standards. My local school board works with my committees to make sure we get curriculum, materials that will help kids reach the standards, but we make those decisions. It's not a canned, federal thing that's coming to Bucklin, Kansas. These are things that we actually believe that kids should know by the time they're 18."

Arnsberger also said one of the anchor reading standards' aims is to empower students to make informed decisions based on evidence.

"Isn't that what you want your kid to do by the time they reach the age of 18, is to be able to discern? There's nothing in that that you wouldn't want, and so all of this other stuff is getting in the way of the state board doing its job, the local board doing its job, of making policy that the rest of us execute, so we have kids meeting standards that are actually better than any standards we've had previously," he said.

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