Earlier this month, approximately a thousand Ohioans spent two to three hours of their free time in packed auditoriums, listening to people talk about education standards.
That sounds pretty boring. So why did busy people drive, as one mother did, up to five hours to join the discussion? Because Common Core changes what kids everywhere will learn, and public debate over the education standards is finally happening three years after states decided to jump in. Although it’s a common complaint that education lacks parent involvement, parents get involved when they hear about things like this.
Common Core lists what kids should know in math and English. Forty-five states—including Ohio—decided in 2010 to replace their own math and English standards with Common Core, and they plan to replace state tests with national Common Core tests scheduled for release in 2014. Common Core supporter Chester Finn Jr., who runs the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (which has an Ohio branch), has said the new standards “may well lead to enormous changes in curriculum, instruction, and testing.” That’s basically everything besides buses and lunch.
Officials in at least a dozen states already have held public forums and introduced legislation to withdraw from Common Core, saying teachers, parents, and elected officials were not informed and involved beforehand, that nearly no state has estimated what the big shift will cost, and that expert reviews have stated Common Core is of poor academic quality. There are related concerns over how the new tests will feed into state longitudinal student data systems currently under construction, especially since the federal government is the only one funding these tests, not states. The U.S. Department of Education has recently ruled that it and any government agency can share student information from these databases without parent knowledge or consent.
I spoke at the three Ohio forums in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. The audience was electric, every room packed. At the Cleveland forum, audience members stayed after its scheduled end time for an hour, continuing to ask questions. They wanted to know, “How can I keep the information schools collect about my child secure?” “How will this affect teachers whose evaluations are now tied to student test scores?” “How can people think every child should meet education mandates someone who will never meet them has decided for the country?”
In Columbus, where we had a debate over the standards, most questions were addressed to Common Core supporters. An example: “How can you say Ohio is a ‘local control state’ when districts must get their kids to do well on a Common Core test that drives what teachers must teach?”
It’s a good question. There are many more that Ohioans obviously want to ask, now that they’ve been finally given a chance after the decisions have been mostly made. State lawmakers and boards of education should take a breather on Common Core until they’ve listened to people’s concerns over an extended period. A lot is changing in Ohio education, such as the new third-grade reading guarantee. This is a good time to pause before foisting another unfunded mandate on schools and communities.
It’s important for people wary of Common Core to recognize the truth that Ohio, like most other states, needs an education boost. That is Common Core proponents’ best point—but it’s neither original nor an argument for the Core. Now that curriculum and testing have everyone’s attention, it’s time for a frank, public discussion of how Ohioans—not central committees of bureaucrats thousands of miles away—want to improve the education their kids and neighbors receive.
Joy Pullmann ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute.