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May 6, 2014

Stop Common Core in Massachusetts? Yes We Can!

The New York Teachers Union’s about-face on the Common Core recently sent shockwaves through the pro-Common Core community. A similar turnaround in Massachusetts is in the making, and homeschool-mom-turned-state-legislator, Representative Keiko Orrall from Lakeville, hopes to harness the dissatisfaction of public school teachers, parents, and homeschoolers to at least pause Common Core.

Orrall, who won a special election in 2011 to gain a seat in the Massachusetts lower house, is a former homeschooling mother of two. She won re-election in 2012.

Stopping the implementation of the Common Core in Massachusetts—where Obama supporter Deval Patrick is governor and Mitchell Chester, chairman of the PARCC Assessment Consortium, is commissioner of education—is an improbable task. But, Orrall says, someone has to try.

“There isn’t nearly enough awareness of the importance of this issue,” said Orrall. “Massachusetts is leading the country in educational achievement. Why would we change what we’re doing? And especially with virtually no input or oversight from the legislature or the public? This simply gives the governor and the Department of Education too much power. The people of Massachusetts deserve better. I’m very concerned that the Common Core standards and the new PARCC testing assessment are a step backwards for Massachusetts.”

High Cost

Orrall filed five amendments to the budget that would affect implementation of the PARCC Assessment, a critical component in the eyes of Common Core proponents. The PARCC replaces the state’s MCAS test. One of Orrall’s amendments that requires an independent analysis of the costs and benefits of switching assessments was adopted and sent to the Senate for action.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, who along with the State Board of Education members adopted the Common Core, are all appointed by the governor except for one, a student, who is elected by his peers. Although the board has held sparsely attended hearings on the subject, Orrall wonders how a board with a commissioner of education who is also chairman of the PARCC can conduct an independent review.

“I’m very concerned that the Common Core standards … are a step backwards for Massachusetts.”

Keiko Orrall
State Representative

“It seems curious that this hasn’t been brought up as a conflict of interest,” she said. “He is influencing the decision and has already made it known he is in favor of this type of testing. He was recently in Washington, D.C. conducting a meeting with talking points on how to answer opponents of the Common Core and PARCC. How can he say that he is conducting an unbiased review of this new testing?”

Calling for an Investigation

Orrall isn’t the only one voicing such concerns. The Salem News reported on April 10 that the Salem School Committee unanimously called for an investigation into the apparent conflict of interest.

The article reported that committee member Dave McGeney said “he’s had it with Chester, who’s been ‘utterly’ disingenuous during the rollout of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) trial test, and who, in fact, has a vested interest in Massachusetts jumping aboard the Common Core bandwagon.” The paper reported that McGeney also said there’s no evidence to back up many of Chester’s statements on the benefits of PARCC.

On May 5 the Cambridge City Council also passed a resolution calling on the legislature to pause implementation of the PARCC Assessment.

Acknowledging that many are unhappy with the MCAS, Orrall also says she wonders why Massachusetts would make such a dramatic change since attaining the number one spot for education performance in the entire country on a variety of rankings.

“Our standards have worked. Even though there are some concerns with the MCAS, these could be addressed if the MCAS were improved. Rather than throw it out we should do an independent review with legislative oversight—that is our job. PARCC introduces over-testing and high-stakes testing that bring more problems and are bad for education generally,” she said. “Proponents say that the PARCC is a cheaper and faster test. But there is no evidence of this. We need an assessment of the process and the assessments.”

“Not Good”

Candidate for the Massachusetts’s Teachers Association, Barbara Madeloni, is also opposed to the Common Core and is making it a campaign issue in her run to be the leader of the powerful group. In a statement on her website, she says that the Common Core is not the means to a quality education for Massachusetts children. “Teachers, parents and students across the country understand the Common Core is not good for our children,” she commented.

Her statement lists eight reasons why she opposes the Common Core, from the high-stakes testing to the power grab by curriculum companies to acknowledging that “standardizing curriculum denies the plurality of our country and of the knowledge and experiences of the children in our schools. Our democracy must be about diversity and not standardization.”

“The Common Core’s standardized national system will create significant obstacles for homeschoolers.”

Mike Donnelly
HSLDA Staff Attorney

Another Common Core opponent is Michael Donnelly, HSLDA’s staff attorney for member affairs for Massachusetts and a former resident and practicing attorney from the state.

“Common Core is an issue that unites groups often seen as polar opposites—homeschoolers and teachers unions,” he commented. “An alignment of this magnitude should indicate to policy makers something is greatly amiss and deserves attention. We believe that the Common Core’s standardized national system will create significant obstacles for homeschoolers in terms of college and career entry. If homeschooled graduates don’t have the Common Core’s ‘stamp of approval,’ doors will be closed to them. I’ve already seen this kind of thing happening in other states like Ohio where the Common Core has been approved.”

He added: “We support Representative Orrall and encourage others to oppose the Common Core’s unprecedented attempt to centralize control over education. Common Core isn’t going to go away without concerted and sustained opposition.”

A Question of Funding

In 2010, Massachusetts quickly qualified for federal funding by adopting the English and math standards for the Common Core and by joining one of only two Common Core assessment groups. All told Massachusetts has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants related to Common Core.

But as federal dollars dry up, state legislatures are now being asked to fund the assessments which require computer equipment, personnel, and training. Consequently, some states, including Michigan, Ohio, and Wyoming, are asking for more information, filing bills to defund the Common Core, and proposing other ideas about promulgating different standards and assessments.

In Massachusetts, Orrall’s amendment passed the overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled legislature—Orrall is one of about 35 Republicans among approximately 200 state legislators. Although the amendment does not pause implementation of the PARCC, Orrall has proposed a separate bill, House Bill 4197, which would delay implementation of the PARCC assessment pending legislative review of the cost-benefit analysis. The bill has been introduced and is in the Rules Committee.

Take Action

HSLDA sent an e-lert to members in Massachusetts last week asking them to contact the State Board of Education as well as their neighbors and friends. Massachusetts is an influential state, so we are encouraging others to get involved and to consider sending this message to the Massachusetts Board of Education:

“Common Core and its aligned PARCC assessment is part of a controversial system developed by private organizations. They are not research-based, tested or benchmarked. This system advances a nationalized education program that removes what are proven contributors to educational success—the local involvement of parents, citizens, and local school committees. There has been virtually no legislative involvement in this dramatic shift from state standards and assessments to these unknown and untested standards and assessments. Changes of this magnitude should involve significant legislative and public oversight. Massachusetts is considered one of the best states in the nation. Why would you want to replace your current system with something unproven and untested? Please oppose the implementation of the Common Core and the PARCC assessments.”

Matthew Malone
Secretary of Education
(617) 979-8340

Mitchell Chester
Commissioner of the Dept. of Education
(781) 338-3100

Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
(781) 338-3102

HSLDA has a long history of fighting national, one-size-fits-all approaches to education because of our concerns that homeschoolers would one day have to submit to such standards. The current discussions about aligning college admissions and academic achievement tests that homeschoolers take (like the ACT and others) to the Common Core will put pressure on homeschool parents to align their homeschool curriculum to what public school students are taught. And even though inBloom—the company that was started to develop the Common Core aligned database has closed—the prospect of national databases is a big concern.

Although proponents often point to the Common Core as being developed by the states working under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association, the reality is that the federal Department of Education’s Race to the Top program used federal education dollars to lure states to adopt the Common Core standards (many before they were even released). There is a long history of the federal government and elites trying to gain power over the drafting of educational standards and to use the public education system as an engine of social change. The Common Core is just the latest attempt that must be resisted in order to preserve what is fundamental to the success of America local control of education.

For more information about the Common Core and to watch HSLDA’s half hour documentary on the Common Core click here.

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