Residents’ questions, complaints prompt call for study into long-range impact of new academic standards
Prodded by a steady stream of residents’ complaints and questions, Grafton school officials agreed this week to continue trying to separate fact from fiction in an ongoing debate over the use of Common Core standards in public education.
The School Board on Monday asked Supt. Mel Lightner to help determine how Common Core originated, if the district is legally required to use Common Core standards and if student testing to measure progress in the national initiative is mandatory.
“We’re not going to organize a debate on this. We’re all on the same team going forward,” Board President Terry Ziegler said after nearly a dozen residents spoke on Common Core, most of whom criticized the implementation of national academic standards and pending tests this fall.
“Common Core has been adopted in the State of Wisconsin, and it’s a step up from the standards we had before.”
Echoing public comments made to the board at other meetings this spring, several residents described Common Core as an effort by the federal government to dictate what is taught in schools and usurp local control.
Others said Common Core tests — including Smarter Balance assessments that will replace Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations this fall — will result in lower scores for students and impair effective teaching.
“Common Core has not been proven or tested,” Grafton resident Felice McKnight said. “Will the standards give my children the skills to go on to college?”
McKnight suggested the district “scrap Common Core and use something in its place.”
Other criticisms were even more pointed, contending that tests will include intrusive questionnaires used to determine students’ religious values, health habits and other personal information.
“Common Core is extremely dangerous,” Town of Cedarburg resident Miranda Mathies said. “Once it’s completed, there will be no reason to have a School Board at all.”
Mathies described Common Core as a federal program that is “training kids to respond to a new political system.”
“The Common Core agenda is designed to make our students into little Communist drones,” she said.
District officials have defended the application of Common Core, which is not mandated by the federal government but a 2010 education initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that is designed to establish consistent academic standards across the country.
Forty-five of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are members of the Common Core Standards Initiative.
In a presentation to the board in April, Michelle Garven, the district’s director of learning services, defended the use of Common Core standards and said the initiative has received “support from business, professional, advocacy and policy stakeholders and national parent organizations.”
Many opponents of Common Core have based their critiques on rumors and misinformation, Garven said.
Lightner said he opposes state and federal intrusions in local public education but believes Common Core gives school districts a better chance to raise academic standards in English, math and other subjects.
“The state Department of Public Instruction adopted Common Core standards, and we are a public school,” he said.
“We’re planning to move forward with Smarter Balance assessments.”
In response to residents’ questions about how Common Core standards were adopted, who decides what tests are given and if testing is mandatory, Lightner said he doesn’t have many of the answers.
“There is so much research to do on these questions. It would probably take months,” he told the board.
Board members declined to discuss Common Core, instead asking Lightner to contact the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Department of Public Instruction and the district’s legal counsel for help in answering questions.
“I don’t want us to reinvent the wheel. Let’s use the public information that’s already out there,” board member Clayton Riddle said.
Although several residents asked the board to take an official vote on Common Core and schedule a public forum to discuss the initiative, Ziegler said he doesn’t support either idea at this time.
“We’ve already had a presentation from Michelle, and we’ve been hearing comments at every meeting,” Ziegler said.
“For the people opposed to Common Core, we’ve heard you. You have to realize that some questions are not going to be answered to everyone’s satisfaction.”