Common Core defenders call out misconceptions

By LAINA STEBBINS
Capital News Service

LANSING — As bills to repeal Common Core school standards move through the Legislature, educators are trying to correct misconceptions they believe may have motivated the legislation.

The Common Core state standards – which set out what K-12 students should know at specific grade levels – were implemented across Michigan after the State Board of Education’s unanimous approval in 2010.

The proposal would terminate the current academic standards and replace them with standards used by Massachusetts schools from 2008-2009.

Supporters of the repeal, including 29 House members, say this switch would bring Michigan up to par with Massachusetts’ consistently high educational attainment scores – although after 2009, that state did join Michigan and 43 other states in implementing Common Core standards.

Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, the House bill’s main sponsor, said he is unsatisfied with assessment data results under Michigan’s Common Core standards. Glenn argues that the actual effectiveness of the standards remains largely unknown, and cites “unproven methods” being used for teaching math as well as “unfunded mandates for intensive testing” as some of its additional problems.

According to Glenn, his legislation would restore local control over educational standards.

“Michigan students deserve the best standards, proven by actual test results,” Glenn said in a newsletter posted to his website. “And ultimately, our own local school boards and educational leaders — not the federal government – know what’s best for Michigan students.”

Opponents including the Michigan Parent Teacher Association, however, point out that Massachusetts repealed its 2008-2009 standards in favor of the Common Core because the previous standards “were recognized as deficient, specifically in regards to mathematics.”

Several education groups, including the state’s Department of Education, have submitted testimony opposing the bill. Among the most fervent dissenters is the PTA.

“Our teachers and school leaders agree that these standards are good for our students, and they want to continue the work they have started to teach our children using these standards,” the PTA’s testimony says.  “To ask them to once again change standards, curricula and assessment methodology shows disrespect for educators and school administrators across the state.”

Tim Webster, superintendent of Reed City Area Schools, opposes repeal of the Common Core standards, particularly because it would involve another abrupt change, even as schools are trying to adjust to the last one.

“It seems like every time we start getting geared up for something, they change it,” said Webster. “They keep moving the target on us.”

The lack of consistency, Webster said, frustrates school administrators more than the content of the changes themselves.

Those in favor of keeping the Common Core standards believe misconceptions may have motivated the bills.

First, education experts want to set the record straight that Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum. The Michigan PTA describes standards as “benchmarks for what a student should know at a given grade,” while curricula are comprised of “the text, lesson plans and materials used to teach students to reach these benchmarks.”

Furthermore, despite persistent beliefs, the Common Core is not federally mandated.

The idea that the Common Core imposes a federally mandated curriculum is a “misbelief” that has led to “misguided” criticism, said Bill DiSessa, a communications specialist for the state Education Department.

“Curriculum decisions are all local decisions in our state,” said DiSessa. “That’s not something that the Department of Education dictates to schools.”

While the Common Core is not a federal mandate, it was developed cooperatively among states to create more consistent education standards nationally.

“Common Core is an attempt to have some consistency around what is taught throughout the country,” said DiSessa. “Our standards here in Michigan are certainly an attempt to have consistent standards throughout the state, under which all districts operate.”

Although Webster agrees on the importance of “holding everybody accountable to the same high standard” through something like Common Core, he said he disagrees with parts of the standards.

For instance, Webster said, the standards require younger students to understand and demonstrate skills they may not be ready for yet. He lists abstract thinking and fifth-grade mathematics as examples.

Regardless, Webster wants to see Michigan adjust those areas of concern rather than “throwing it all out and starting over again,” which he said repeal legislation aims to do.

“The Common Core’s not so bad that we couldn’t work with it, even though it has its faults and its difficulties and its philosophical differences that I disagree with,” said Webster. “But whatever you decide to do, just quit changing it every 20 minutes.”

Glenn’s bill has been referred to the committee on House Competitiveness Committee. A repeal bill by Sen. Phillip Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, has been referred to the Senate Government Committee.