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State education commissioner's Common Core presentation brings skeptics out to Bedford

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 01. 2013 8:42PM

BEDFORD — State education commissioner Viginia Barry attempted to explain the controversial Common Core state education standards before an audience that included many skeptics with questions about the system and whether it's a good move for students.

Berry spoke at a meeting of the state's school administrators in Bedford this week.

But school board members, educators and parents from the Greater Manchester area also showed up for the meeting.

Some in the audience, including Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who chairs the city's Board of School Committee, said Barry's presentation left too many questions unanswered.

Later this month, the Manchester board will again consider whether to adopt the Common Core, an educational program covering all grades that the federal Department of Education is encouraging school districts nationwide to adopt.

Dissenting districts are afraid that they may lose federal aid and eventually state funding if the don't follow the nationalized education plan.

In response to a question from Gatsas, Barry said local districts can put off implementation until 2015 and referred to "assessments" that would then be taken of local districts to determine if they are meeting student needs.

Gatsas said the assessments have not been fully explained to local communities so that educators know what is coming next. He added that Barry's statement that "the windows closes in two years" is "too little information" for a school district that depends on state and federal sources for $77 million. Manchester schools receive $21 million from the United States and $56 million from New Hampshire.

Gatsas said he worries that city schools will be at a disadvantage because a large segment of the public school enrollment consists of non-English-speaking students.

"The question is, what will we do after two years," Gatsas said. "If we're still waiting for (a) waiver not to have to test students that aren't even proficient in their own language, I hope we can step back and tell the federal government we don't want to play any more."

Barry broke down Common Core requirements during her presentation, but some segments of the audience appeared to have already reached a conclusion on the suggested curriculum.

Many the audience came wearing red as a sign of opposition to the proposed overhaul of public education. Some objected to the general idea of the federal government seemingly imposing its will on local school districts, while others say they find fault with the specific curriculum structure and testing plans.

Barry challenged the critics of the program in the audience, saying it is not a program being forced on the country and that the standards are a guideline developed by educators and administrators nationwide.

"It's new to us, it's change and sometimes it's hard to accept that change process," Barry said at the sessions, which was officially a meeting of the state School Administrators Association south central district.

Manchester's Curriculum and Instruction Committee stalled in two separate meetings as it tried to reach a consensus on Common Core and ended up sending the matter to the full board without a recommendation for formal consideration on Oct. 16.

"We will have to have a discussion at that meeting," Gatsas said. "We may develop a set of Manchester standards and make sure the students reach them,"

Gatsas said Manchester may follow the lead of Massachusetts, which developed its own curriculum frameworks and assessment tests.

"The Massachusetts standards that have taken them from the bottom to near the top, that might be something we want to extract some standards from," Gatsas said.

A comment from Barry that the federal government is not leading the Common Core push was met by audible groans from the audience.

But the education commissioner was cheered when she said the state could have the option to leave the Smarter Balance tests if it chooses and go with a combination of PSAT and SAT college entrance exams.

Barry said Common Core is about better preparing students for the future.

"I hear all too often that the students don't care," she said. "Yeah they do, but they have to be in an environment that makes sense to them and they want to be fully engaged."

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