Commissioners host Common Core education forum

Complaints about how the implemented Common Core state standards are affecting school children, opposition to federalization of education and concerns about how the state standards are preparing public school students for community college education instead of four-year colleges were just some of the sentiments heard at the Common Core Education Forum Monday night.
Residents packed into the large conference room in Carroll Community College's K building to hear six panelists give their varied opinions on the Common Core state standards. The Board of Carroll County Commissioners hosted the four-hour forum.
The presentation began with comments from the commissioners. After each of the speakers gave their presentation, the commissioners were given a chance to ask them questions. At the end, the public was given the chance to ask questions of the panelists.
Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said although he spoke in opposition to the forum, he looked forward to beneficial dialogue and the exchange of ideas. He asked that the subject matters be specifically addressed so everyone can consider the issues and how best to address them.
"I have and will continue to fight for local control of education," he said.
Commissioner David Roush, R- District 3, said he supported the forum because he believes that not everyone had been given the chance to express their ideas about the Common Core.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said he opposes Common Core and finding experts to defend the Common Core during the forum was difficult because many declined, such as the Maryland Department of Education and the Carroll County Board of Education.
He said the forum was needed to allow for open discussion because debate has been restricted thus far.
"One hundred percent of the forums offered ... have given pro-Common Core speakers exclusive access to the podium," he said. "They have no right to limit the information available to you, our citizens."
Speaker Christopher Tienken, assistant professor at Seton Hall University, questioned the claims being made about the Common Core. He said he studies the state standards through an empirical and scientific lens, but also as a practitioner and a father, and questions the need for Common Core.
There are two major claims being made by Common Core proponents - that United States children are competitively lagging and that rankings on international tests translate to economic success.
He said that none of the tests given can predict or explain economic strength and a representative sample is not tested in each country.
"We're making decisions based on a test that doesn't have curricular focus," he said.
After giving data about the overwhelming achievements of United States citizens, he explained that he is not arguing that everything is perfect.
Another claim is that the standards are internationally benchmarked, but research to support the idea has yet to be identified. He also said a reason for the state standards is the claim that it helps students who move state to state, but only about 80,000 out of 50 million students in public school move from state to state each year.
Tienken argued that officials should look at the standards, pick them apart and see if they are developmentally appropriate for children.
"Where is the evidence that the majority of Carroll County students are not achieving to their potential? Are local kids in need of Common Core? The empirical and cultural evidence does not support the proposed solution," he said.
Tienken said he is having a hard time finding the need for national benchmarks.
"If you want standards, at least set the mastery requirements at developmentally appropriate levels," he said.
Jill Stine, senior faculty of the Common Core Institute, said the Common Core state standards are providing teachers with the opportunity to be better leaders, which will result in high-achieving students.
"It used to be about the graduation rate," she said. "Now it's about college and career readiness."
The world is moving fast and educators have to keep up, Stine said. There is a focus on informational text, text complexity and evidence-based writing.
In response to a question from Commissioner Howard, Stine said a lot of these strategies are already being used, they just haven't been used in fidelity to increase student learning.
Sandra Stotsky, a former professor at the University of Arkansas who served on the Common Core Validation Committee, said she urges officials to devise changes to the standards to strengthen them at the high school level. She recommended asking for the development of a support group at the end of the school year that should come together and think of changes to strengthen the standards.
"Ask for a budget item for developing ... a high school test to check on the level of achievement as a baseline," she said. "Let the teachers in math and English come up with their own end-of-course tests and after five years, give the test again to see if there are any differences."
There needs to be a measurement independent of other national tests that have been aligned to the Common Core, Stotsky said.
"You will have no way to know what happened to your school system unless you measure it this year. This is your baseline year," she said.
Stotsky also suggested that the state not adopt the new science standards and said those standards are even weaker at the high school level than the high school math Common Core state standards.
"You should plead with your state board not to adopt them," she said.
Stotsky said the people who wrote the standards did not represent the relevant stakeholders and that two private trade groups devised the standards behind the scenes, without open meetings.
"Who are the people that these two organizations together chose to be standards writers? Most of them were unqualified in different ways," she said.
Jerome Dancis, associate professor emeritus in the math department at University of Maryland, College Park, said that the Common Core does not require professional development for how to teach and urged school systems to adopt higher standards for hiring qualified educators.
Bruce Holstein, from the grassroots community group Carroll Values Educational Freedom and Excellence, said the group believes the students, local school board and teachers are victims of state overreach when it comes to the Common Core state standards.
"We are not attacking the implementation by our local school system," he said. "We are questioning the adoption of the Common Core based on state mandate."
He said the Common Core emphasis on global citizenship is taking away from American values.
During the resident question and answer session, a woman asked if there was any consideration made to implementing the standards incrementally in elementary, then middle and high school. Stotsky said that was not considered to her knowledge.
"It's been pushed through much too fast in all ways," she said. "Part of the reason was the nature of congressional appropriations."
Stine said that districts have tried to implement the Common Core in a way that did not overwhelm teachers and students.
Other speakers expressed concern that the Common Core undermines state and local board autonomy laws. Some parents also got upset at learning teaching and grading differences they have seen this year, which they believe to be the result of the Common Core implementation. The panelists urged those parents to work with the school system to sort out those issues.