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Mass Group Blasts Legality of New MA Education Standards

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


A Massachusetts public policy group, Pioneer Institute, is calling the newly adopted state education standards unconstitutional. They say that the Common Core standards violate three laws and also lowers the emphasis placed on essential subjects including American Literature and math.

“Pioneer has done four independent crosswalks of standards against high standing states like Massachusetts. Every step, with the Common Core, they were inferior to what Mass had previously,” said Jamie Gass, Director of the Center for School Reform of the conservative Pioneer Institute. “The Common Core benefits some of the lowest performing states in the union quite a lot – states like Arkansas, Mississippi. But there’s no question. That’s not true for the highest performing states like Massachusetts and California."

In additional to the problems with academic quality, Gass says that the new standards raise some serious legal issues. Their research group has also estimated the switch over would be costly for the Commonwealth.

Legality and National Testing

Gass says that Common Core violates three federal laws that prohibit federal departments or agencies from directing, supervising or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculums. The standards have been adopted in 45 states and Washington DC.

While Pioneer Institute believes that the Common Core in place by the Department of Education has placed the country on the road to a national curriculum, JC Considine, Director of Board and Media Relations at the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, says that the Board is in no way violating any laws.

“Curriculum standards are guidelines for what students should know and be able to do in various subjects and grades,” Considine said. “We have no state mandated curriculum in Massachusetts. Each district decides the topics to cover, and the materials and methods to use and what an appropriate scope and sequence is for curricula in all subjects.”

According to the him, the Department of Education has been talking with school districts about the transition to the Common Core since the fall of 2010 and that there have been no forced situations.

“No one imposed the Common Core State Standards on us. This was a state-developed initiative. We participated in the development of the standards, worked closely with the curriculum writers, and throughout the process made certain that the proposed standards would be as high or higher than our existing frameworks,” he said. “Ultimately, we customized the standards and inserted them into our own frameworks.”

The Institute says the Common Core violates the General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act, which ban the Department from directing, supervising, or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials.

“The ideal would be that Massachusetts would be referred to previous standards, in line with teacher testing,” Gass said. “I don’t see that happening.”

The Effect in Worcester

Worcester School committee member John Monfredo says that the Common Core will hopefully encourage principals, students, and teachers to raise the bar, despite Gass’ concern that the standards will show an overall decline in performance.

“In general, the standards encourage a focus on the most important topics at each grade level and subject, so that allows teachers to build those skills,” he said. “In addition, principals will continue to be pushed in becoming educational leaders for they have to understand the standards and when observing teachers see if the teacher is challenging students to present and defend ideas in the strand on applying learning.”

Monfredo added that while he believes the program will be successful, teachers will “need help in navigating the Common Core Standards,” suggesting online lessons for teachers to assist with the transition.

The Costs to Transition

Theodor Rebarber, lead contributor to the analysis, National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards says that few of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards have adequately prepared for the associated costs.

“While test-development costs will be covered by federal grants, these states are also likely to see their overall expenditures increase significantly,” he said.

According to research done by Pioneer Institute, they predict that for the states that have adopted the standards, it will cost nearly $16 billion during the first seven years of implementation. This estimated cost includes the cost of familiarizing teachers with the standards, textbooks and materials, and technology upgrades.

“In coercing states to adopt the Common Core State Standards program, the US Department of Education and various private trade groups have denied the American people and their elected state legislators any meaningful chance to study either its academic quality or cost implications,” said Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project. “Sadly, now state and local taxpayers will have to pay for Common Core’s distortion of the democratic process.”

Considine said that discussion about the raising concerns about the cost to meet technology requirements, deals more with The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. “PARCC is the multi-state consortium that Massachusetts belongs to and which is developing a new assessment system based on the new Common Core State Standards,” he said.

Cutting Math and Literature

Gass is also concerned that the Common Core will cut emphasis on classic American literature, something he considers one of the Commonwealth’s strong points. He added that many of these efforts are going to be refocused to info technology, which he says is vague and ill defined.

“On the math side,” he said. “Massachusetts is number one in the country and internationally competitive in language arts and in testing in math and science. The Common Core progression is a year or two behind what the state had before. In both, it’s a significant downgrading.”

School committee member, Monfredo said that an emphasis needs to be placed on the program’s foundation.

“I feel that we need to do a great deal of professional development especially in the elementary grades. That is where we build the foundation,” he said. “In particular we need to look at the Common Core standards in elementary math. Many elementary teachers will need to have a solid foundation in the understanding of math concepts.”

Remains to be Seen

Gass said that Pioneer Institute has been working with over half a dozen states that are interested in pulling out from the Common Core. While many results of the switch remain to be seen, he believes the change will bring many negative results.

“I think there’s no question that the Patrick administration is really migrating away from demonstrable successes that we saw from 1993 Act,” he said. “What will continue to happen with education, this new standard will continue to take Massachusetts away from standards based reform, removing it from its position as the envy of the country.”

While Monfredo says that he does not think the Common Core will cut anything from the state’s reputation as a leader in education, he cited literacy and writing skills as critical aspects of education.

“The children need to know the components of the writing process including planning, drafting, sharing, revising, editing, etc. Hopefully, the Common Core will help teachers address this,” he said.


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