BRIDGEPORT, W. Va. — Opponents of the academic standards utilized in the state of West Virginia, as well as those curious about the subject gathered in a packed room at the Courtyard Marriott in Bridgeport.
The West Virginia Against Common Core organization played host to the event, inviting one of the most recognized critics of the Common Core State Standards to speak, Dr. Sandra Stotsky.
“Dr. Stotsky is the first expert that we’ve brought into the state and we want this to be a big success because this is awareness,” Angela Summers with WV Against Common Core said. “There is no one that can meet her credentials. So, we’re just thrilled that she’s here with us.”
Stotsky is Professor Emerita from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform. She served as Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 to 2003, helping construct the standards and licensure tests for prospective teachers during her time there. She also served on the National Validation Committee for the Common Core State Systemic Initiative, charged with reviewing the standards.
Part of the reason she is motivated to speak out against Common Core is because of the groups she said were left out of the process.
“Common Core’s project excluded parents who had no idea what was going to happen to their children, it excluded teachers who had no idea until of few years ago what they were expected to teach, it excluded state legislators and what the costs were going to be and it excluded local school board officials.”
The standards originated when the National Governors Association and the Chief State School Officers organizations came together with the idea ELA and math standards for K-12 public schools should prepare students for college and be mostly universal so a student in California would have the same base knowledge as a student from West Virginia by the end of the same grade.
In 2009, the two organizations announced the Common Core Standards Initiative and 49 states and territories, including West Virginia, had joined in the effort.
The organizations partnered with D.C.-based, independent, bi-partisan, non-profit education reform organization Achieve, Inc. to construct the standards with outside funding provided by various organizations, including more than $200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
They were presented as rigorous standards, but Stotsky said this simply isn’t the case.
“We are told over and over again by people who simply parrot talking points that they are demanding and rigorous,” she said. “What they don’t know, because they cannot read high school math and English or science standards, is that these standards will lower the academic standards of our high school curriculum.”
The authors of the standards claim they are not a curriculum and do not tell teachers how to teach. Rather, they are goals for what students should know by the end of each grade. For example, one such goal for math in the 2nd grade is students should be able to “Reason abstractly and quantitatively.” If teachers are able to get the students up to all standards, they allow for further lessons to go beyond the base knowledge required. However, critics claim the standards do ultimately dictate curriculum because textbooks and lesson plans must account for the standards.
Critics also claim the released standards are an attempt at federal control over education. The president’s administration did not have any direct influence on the development but did come out in support, stating they fit with the “Race to the Top” Program, which provides incentive for improvement in the education system. If a state adopts a set of common standards, they are eligible for 40 points out of 500 available in the contest toward federal funding.
In this state, the standards are labeled as “West Virginia’s Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives” and, according to the state Department of Education, were created after 100 teachers from around the state came together to customize Common Core. These standards were approved by the state Board of Education and local school boards were allowed slow accumulation until this school year, when full implementation is required.
Stotsky claims the Next Generation Standards could be costly to the future of West Virginian students, especially with the oil and gas industry taking off in the state needing employees with a STEM background. If the standards do not fulfill the requirements for such a job, the students will have limited options once entering the work force.
“Between math and science, your high school students aren’t even going to be anything to be anything but well-educated ditch diggers,” she said.
Over the past few months, more teachers –and politicians– have seemingly started to call the standards into question. A recent poll released by Education Next suggests this is accurate.
According to the poll, from 2013 to 2014, support of Common Core from teachers dropped from 76 percent to 46 percent, 57 percent to 43 percent for Republicans, 65 percent to 63 percent from Democrats and 65 percent to 53 percent from the public.
“It’s beginning to implode faster than anyone thought possible,” Stotsky said.
Supporters of Common Core claim the shift is due to the issue being politicized while critics claim the shift is due to people becoming aware of what they describe as the unintended consequences of the standards.
WV Against Common Core were encouraged by the standing room only crowd comprised of educators, state legislators and citizens who came to listen to Stotsky, as well as Ohio Senator Andy Thompson, from a state attempting to get rid of Common Core.
The organizations goal is to build on the momentum of the event and spread the message across the state and, if they become successful, possibly replacing the Common Core standards with the reportedly successful standards Stotsky helped develop in Massachusetts, which she updated in 2010.
“There’s no common sense to adopting Common Core that’s untested when we have tested standards from Massachusetts,” Summers said. “It seems like such a no-brainer and that’s what I want us to do. I want us to get real standards that’s already tested and we know they’re rigorous.”
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, the state board of education and many county boards of education remain in support of the Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives.