The new Souhegan Tea Party heard a presentation Wednesday on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and how the education reform movement in is shifting state public education from liberal arts to workforce development.
Bedford resident Ann Marie Banfield, the education liaison for the conservative think tank Cornerstone Policy Research, presented an overview of the initiative and the change it will bring to public schools.
Superintendents, administrators and state policymakers have accepted Common Core as a national set of English language and math standards to ensure high school graduates are prepared for college or a career, but Banfield and others who examined the entire program say there’s more to it.
“The problem is how they are coercing the states into using a set of mediocre standards,” Banfield told a group of about 40 people attending the session at the Milford Library.
Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core Standards were introduced in 2010 when much of the country was struggling with a bleak economy. States that adopted Common Core bettered their odds in the Race to the Top contest for more than $4 billion in federal education aid. New Hampshire’s Board of Education signed on to Common Core in July 2010, but no Race to the Top money ever arrived in Concord.
“The Common Core Standards were voted in by four appointed members of the state board,” said Banfield adding a fifth member voted against adopting the program.
No vote or public hearing was held on the plan to redesign the public school system.
Loss of local control
Banfield said that loss of local control over community schools is just one of the problems with Common Core.
In addition to adopting the standards, many states agreed to create longitudinal databases that collect student test scores and personal information, such as race, ethnicity, parents’ level of education, income level and religious affiliations.
“Information is collected on assessment tests,” said Banfield, who added the Common Core Initiative will use a 400-point data system to gather facts on students.
“What’s going to be collected, I don’t know,” she said. However, Banfield did say that states can share student data with other government agencies, such as the Department of Labor.
While Common Core has been presented as voluntary, all students will be required to take the Common Core assessment tests starting in 2015, and all teachers will have student test scores count as part of their job evaluations. New Hampshire agreed to those Common Core conditions when it accepted a waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Banfield and other critics of Common Core have said that because of those conditions, there’s nothing voluntary about Common Core.
Shift from liberal arts
Banfield said she might have accepted the Common Core mandates if New Hampshire was getting a well-planned slate of educational reforms that aimed at achieving academic excellence.
“The Common Core Standards involve a fundamental shift away from a quality liberal arts education toward competency-based education and workforce development,” she said.
Literature will give way to reading and analyzing more informational texts; calculus has been pushed aside so more time can be spent on algebra; and individual achievement will be downplayed while group projects and group problem-solving will be emphasized.
“It’s amazing when you look at the real lack of academics,” said Banfield. “Common Core is about teaching collaboration and workplace competencies.”
Like other groups with concerns and questions about the standards, the Souhegan Tea Party thinks lobbying the state Legislature to reign in Common Core may be the answer.
“The Department of Education still reports to the Legislature,” said Amherst state Rep. Peter Hansen. “They may not think they do, but they do.”
Souhegan Tea Party organizer James Kofalt, who said he launched the group because he was tired of sitting alone and yelling at his television, gave everyone who attended a schedule of Common Core meetings and presentations and other tips on how to effectively oppose the initiative.
“We need New Hampshire to get rid of Common Core and elevate their own standards,” he said.