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Common Core concerns: Carroll Board of Education candidates talk school standards

The Common Core state standards are educational expectations for students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12 in the subjects of English/language arts and mathematics.

The Common Core state standards are part of the Race to the Top federal initiative, which asks states to advance reforms by adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy; build data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction; recruit, develop, reward and retain effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and turn around our lowest-achieving schools, according to the Maryland State Department of Education website.

In 2010, the Memorandum of Understanding was entered into by and between the MSDE and the U.S. Department of Education. The agreement established a framework of collaboration, as well as articulated specific roles and responsibilities in support of MSDE in its implementation of an approved Race to the Top grant project.

Forums have been held statewide or locally to address the topic, and some schools have held sessions to teach parents about the educational changes. There have been rallies to oppose the standards, claiming they take local control away from education.

After the standards were adopted by MSDE, curriculum changes, written by local teachers, were implemented in Carroll County, according to Carroll County Public Schools. School officials have expressed concern over the implementation timeline, claiming the changes associated with the Common Core had to be done too quickly and there was not enough time for appropriate professional development.

Eight candidates are vying for three open seats on the Carroll County Board of Education. Those seats are currently held by board president Virginia Harrison, Gary Bauer and Barbara Shreeve. Only Harrison is running for re-election. Voters can cast ballots for three candidates in the primary, which takes place June 24. The candidate pool will be narrowed to six people for November's general election.

We asked the candidates: What, if any, are your concerns with Common Core and what specifically would you do to address these issues?

Gary Desper: There are a lot of concerns over the Common Core standards. I'm committed to local involvement in setting the curriculum, which means working together as a team with parents, teachers and our community to identify and build upon what is working and correcting what is not.

George Harmening: My concern with Common Core is that it is a one-size-fits-all government takeover of our children's education. The government will be telling the teachers what they can and can not teach. They will be changing history and indoctrinating our children. It's a lower quality of education and sets the children back two years. My solution is to simply rip it out of this county by the roots.

Virginia Harrison (incumbent): My concerns with Common Core are the timeline and the fact that we don't have all the equipment that we need. I would like to see our teachers have more training and time to educate parents on the benefits of Common Core. The school board has asked the superintendent and the state board of education for more time.

Mary Kowalski: I am concerned that Common Core weakens local control over education. Administrators have indicated that their hands are tied, even if parents object or disagree with materials in the classroom or elements of curriculum. It will no longer be a matter of bringing concerns to the local Board of Education. I am also concerned that many of the arguments in favor of Common Core are not rooted in facts, but highly misleading propaganda.

Bob Lord: My concern with Common Core is the implementation speed. Common Core State Standards were developed quickly, with little input from parents and teachers, and was rolled out nationally with no field testing. CCPS rewrote curriculum across many grades at once. Students who started under the old standards were not given the support to get to the new standards and, as a result, have gaps in their learning. Teachers were not given enough professional development before they were expected to teach the new curriculum. Heavy reliance on standardized testing and the overwhelming need for measurable data is another issue. Testing twice per year, over periods of weeks, for many hours disrupts learning. To solve these issues, we must rely on our state and federal legislatures to fix the issues with the standards. We must review and revise our curriculum locally, as we have always done, and focus on professional development.

Charles "Bud" Nason: Focusing only on Carroll's experience thus far, what we've seen of the early stages of the math portion has been rife with confusion, apprehension and poor communication. If this is any indication of what's to come, both a hard re-look and extreme caution seem to be in order.

Jim Roenick: There are so many I will simply list some: Removing the family from education, making simple math complicated, not teaching Algebra I by eighth grade, the exorbitant costs - tens of millions of Carroll County taxpayer dollars, lack of teacher involvement in education, lack of teacher development, teachers having to "teach" from scripts, not their own developed lesson plans, no local input from any parent, teacher or school board, all of the data mining that is required. The implementation of Common Core must be stopped immediately. Restore standard curriculum development to local control, returning to teaching math with memorization of the multiplication and division tables, return to the reading of literary classics instead of menus and technical manuals, allowing the teachers to return to being teachers once again so that they can focus on what is good for the individual student, not the collective.

Devon Rothschild: My concerns with Common Core are the speed at which it was implemented, inadequate professional development for our teachers, and insufficient communication with parents. The timeline for implementation of Common Core was set by the government. However, I would work with our delegation, as our current board did, to continue to request waivers for meeting these deadlines. We need to prioritize putting math resource teachers in our elementary schools so there is a resident expert in each school to provide additional professional development to our teachers. Parents should always be treated as partners in their child's learning. We need a clear directive from the Board of Education and the superintendent saying as much. I would like each school to hold "curriculum nights" where parents are able to learn about specific changes to their child's curriculum and to be able to collaborate with their child's teachers.

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