West

The Argument: Should Massachusetts drop the Common Core?

Should the state drop its implementation of national Common Core standards?

YES

Sandra Stotsky

Sandra Stotsky

Brookline resident, former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, now supports endcommoncorema.com.

To get $250 million in federal money, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted in 2010 to adopt math and English Language Arts standards it knew were inferior to the state’s own standards. Bay State students had already reached first place on 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in fourth and eighth grades in both math and reading and had stayed there. Moreover, all student groups had made steady gains in academic achievement through the 2000s. To this day, we do not know why the board voted to impose Common Core’s standards on the state. They had no track record for effectiveness anywhere and were not research-based, internationally benchmarked, or rigorous.

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Nevertheless, like sheep, most school committees have supported their superintendents’ recommendations to purchase expensive technology for Common Core-based tests, more computer specialists for their elementary schools, more data managers for their central offices, curriculum materials “aligned” to these new standards, and never-ending professional development to show teachers how to teach to the new standards and the tests based on them.

All this is costing far more than anyone ever dreamed, and there’s no end in sight. Parents and teachers know there is something wrong with almost nine hours of PARCC testing at every grade level, plus test prep, with no useful information returned to teachers or parents. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education still doesn’t get it. It plans to vote this fall to dump the science standards that put our students in a first-place tie with Singapore in grade 8 in 2007 and 2013, to replace them with science standards as weak as Common Core’s math standards in high school, and to lock the state into PARCC tests.

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A question on the November 2016 ballot offers voters an opportunity to rescind the state’s costly decision in 2010 and restore standards that demonstrably improved K-12 academic achievement and the knowledge base needed for critical thinking. Our public schools need to move forward, not backward. Common Core’s standards weren’t designed to develop critical thinking or deeper learning. That is why testing systems based on Common Core will not annually release all used test items to the public.

NO

Kelly R. Clenchy

Kelly R. Clenchy

Littleton schools superintendent

Massachusetts entered into a memorandum of agreement in the spring of 2009 supporting the development of Common Core Standards in the areas of English and mathematics. In the summer of 2010, the state adopted those national standards. State education officials then added other standards to Common Core to create the Massachusetts State Standards.

In essence, our school districts follow the Massachusetts State Standards inclusive of Common Core Standards. It is important to understand that standards do not represent a curriculum in its entirely. In fact, school districts across our state interpret and interweave the state standards into their curricula. Teachers can tailor individual curricula in a fashion that incorporates their own expertise.

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Both the Common Core and the Massachusetts State Standards are designed to prepare students for college and careers. Some changes are already being experienced in the classroom. For example, in English Language Arts there is an increased focus on higher-level thinking and on teaching through non-fiction text. Students gain knowledge about their world by reading text closely and then engaging in conversations about the subject matter, and using writing skills that rely on opinion, persuasion, and argumentation.

Similarly, in math, greater focus has been placed on providing students with the conceptual understanding, procedural skill, and fluency necessary for real-life application of mathematical concepts.

School districts throughout the Commonwealth have invested heavily in staff development and new resources in response to the new State Standards. As a nation we are adapting to a global shift toward an “innovative economy.” We need to continue on our current path and provide our schools with the necessary resources to prepare our students for those changes.

The negative attention to the Common Core may be a result of implementation fatigue. This, however, has not been caused by the implementation of the Massachusetts Standards but rather the speed at which local, state, and federal initiatives have been pursued.

Let us continue on the path to transformational educational change across our nation. Our Massachusetts State Standards align with our commitment to provide our students with an education that will hold them in good stead as they help shape the future of our great nation.

As told to Globe Correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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