Massachusetts Court Strikes Down Common Core Repeal Ballot Initiative

Published August 11, 2016

An initiative to repeal Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Massachusetts will not be on November’s ballot, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (MSJC) ruled the text of the question does not comply with state law.

The grassroots organization End Common Core Massachusetts had gathered more than 100,000 signatures in 2015 and 2016 to get their question certified for the November ballot. The petition sought to reverse a 2010 vote by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that adopted CCSS. According to the text of the petition, the ballot initiative would have “restore[d] the English Language Arts and Mathematics curriculum frameworks in place prior to the vote.”

The petition also sought to require the state commissioner of education to publicly release all standardized test items, including questions and answers, each year.

Attorney General Maura Healey (D) certified the question as constitutional in September 2015. A group of CCSS supporters challenged Healey’s certification in court, and in July 2016, the MSJC ruled unanimously the question had been improperly certified because it contained provisions that are “not related or mutually dependent.”

The judges’ decision said the section requiring public release of used test items was unrelated to the other three sections, and thus the entire petition is unconstitutional.

‘Patent Nonsense’

Sandra Stotsky, professor of education emerita at the University of Arkansas and the former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, says MSJC’s ruling doesn’t make sense.

“[MSJC] is not accountable to explain its reasoning behind the decision that the release of used test items is not related to the transparency of the test,” Stotsky said. “It’s patent nonsense, because any teacher would tell you it is. How else would you know what’s on the test if you can’t see the test items?”

All About the Money?

Donna Colorio, chairwoman of End Common Core Massachusetts, says the fight against the petition was more about big money than education.

“You have a very tiny minority of heavily funded people in Massachusetts who would lose their funding if Common Core were repealed,” Colorio said. “It was about money, not about the kids.”

Stotsky says it’s likely big donors—such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to promote and implement CCSS—were behind the legal effort to keep the repeal question off the ballot.

“I see it as an effort by the Gates Foundation to get a Massachusetts-based organization to try to halt putting on the ballot a petition that simply allows people to vote,” Stotsky said. “After all, that’s all it is. We’re talking about a citizens’ petition getting on the ballot. It isn’t like we’re saying that this is a law we’re trying to get through the legislature. This is just an opportunity for citizens to vote by secret ballot. I believe the Gates Foundation feared the expression of voters, parents, legislators, and teachers.”

Next Steps

Colorio says she and fellow anti-Common Core activists are planning to continue their efforts.

“Our next step is to look into the possibility of running the ballot question in two years,” Colorio said. “When I proposed that to my statewide team, they were very energized by that. We have reorganized and will expand our base. In the last three years, we’ve gone from a handful of individuals who want to fight Common Core in Massachusetts to a quarter of a million [people] statewide, with all our different groups and outreaches. We’ll work on efforts to educate parents on their rights and work with school boards and legislation until we are able to get [the question] back on the ballot.”

Colorio says it’s also important to engage with legislators.

“Legislators need to listen to the will of the people in their communities and say, ‘We have to do something,'” Colorio said. “The evidence is in our favor. We’re seeing the repercussions of the implementation of Common Core. We will heavily work on our House and Senate and getting them to understand that this has a tremendous negative impact on the future of our kids.

“We’re on the right side of history here,” Colorio said. “I feel very strongly about that. We will prevail.”

Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.