Parents Protest National Common Core Standards

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NEW YORK -- At least 20 states are questioning a new set of national education standards known as the Common Core.

Forty-five states recently adopted the standards, which supporters say will help align all the states under a uniform goal and prepare children to compete in a global economy.

Critics contend that the Common Core strips away local control and was poorly designed, pointing to early failure in Kentucky and New York.

Dialogue on Standards

Dr. Joe Rella, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., initially welcomed the standards, but quickly lost faith in them.

"Pretty early on, it was clear there wasn't going to be a dialogue on this between districts and the state education department," he said. "It was a one-way communication and we began to receive a lot of materials, edicts, scripts."

This spring, New York and Kentucky were the first to administer state-wide testing in alignment with the new standards. The results were disastrous.

In New York, less than one-third of the students in 3rd through 8th grades passed in English and math -- down about 50 percent from their traditional test scores the year before.

For Rella, the scores became a literal rallying point as he called the Comsewogue community to gather at the high school football field. He is hoping, as are many New York parents, that the state will at least re-examine the standards.

In at least 20 states, other parents are pushing lawmakers to pass legislation that will temporarily or permanently halt the standards.

In Illinois, Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., has held hearings on the Common Core and now wants the state to review it.

"There's so many questions out there and so much cost potential at a time when we can least afford it," he told CBN News. "The right thing to do is really to follow the lead of Indiana where the legislature said, 'Let's stop and wait on this, get some answers, before we move forward.'"

Unchangeable Core

The story behind the creation of the Common Core helps to explain some of the current controversy.

Two trade organizations, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, developed the standards and then copyrighted them -- a move that makes any change impossible.

The chief author of the Common Core, education consultant David Coleman, is now president of the College Board. His new job entails rewriting the SAT.

Critics fear that will further cement the Common Core's influence, forcing any college-bound student, whether public-schooled, private-schooled, or home-schooled, to align with the Core.

Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is the chief funder. Politico reports the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pumped more than $160 million into developing and promoting the Common Core.

Critics like Emmett McGroarty, education director at the American Principles Project, say it represents the elitest approach used in developing the standards.

"The people were shut out of the process," he said. "They weren't given notice as to what was happening."

McGroarty and other critics say the Common Core's creation was simply undemocratic, with little public input and no accountability. They also contend that it's unconstitutional, noting that education is not listed in the powers of Congress found in Article 1, Section 8.

Losing Faith in Education

A grass-roots, largely mom-led movement opposing the Common Core is springing up around the country. It is led by women like Yvonne Gasparino of West Chester, N.Y., who recently gathered a group of concerned parents to meet with CBN News in Long Island near the Comsewogue School District.

The parents, many who selected homes in districts known for rigorous curriculums and college-bound students, say they no longer have faith in the education their children are receiving.

None of the seven parents at the meeting received official notices regarding the implementation of the Common Core. Many say, however, that they discovered the newly adopted standards when their children began bringing home homework that was difficult to comprehend.

Jacqueline Virga said her 8-year-old twins struggled to adapt and so did she.

"Come January, all of a sudden, I noticed that their homework changed a lot," she said. "It was very confusing. I didn't understand it."

Mitchell Rubinstein said he couldn't believe that the schools did not inform parents of the changes.

"It was never publicized," he said, "and there were certainly never any public hearings or discussions among parents about the fact that this was going to be a major paradigm shift in how almost everything happens in school."

The challenge now for parents who have concerns about the Common Core is where to go. Because the standards are copyrighted, there's no possibility of changing them.

"If a parent has a problem with Common Core state standards I guess they'll call up Arne Duncan maybe?" Gasparino joked in exasperation.

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, helped to usher in the Common Core with one big incentive: Race to the Top funding. He offered states that adopted the Common Core more than $4 billion in federal grants. 

Demanding More of Young People

Common Core supporters include major figures from both political parties and Christian conservative leaders like Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University, argued in a June 20, 2013 op-ed in Christianity Today that the Common Core will help students read and analyze Scripture.

"The Common Core reading standards require students to understand a text in deep and meaningful ways," she wrote.

Many education reformers also back the Common Core, saying it corrects the "kitchen-sink" approach to teaching by narrowing the focus with fewer goals.

"The Common Core standards are designed to be fewer standards at each grade level, to be clearer so that teachers can really understand by looking at them, parents as well, what children are supposed to be learning and to go deeper in specific content areas," Sara Mead, a principal with Bellwether Education Partners, explained.

Dr. Ramon Edelin, head of the Association of D.C. Chartered Public Schools, said the Common Core will help bring under-achieving states into alignment with top performers and help children across the country prepare to compete globally.

"It is much higher critical thinking skills," she said. "It demands of young people more writing, more listening, and more verbal ability to explain your points of view."

Local Control

Edelin and other supporters also challenge opponents who say the Common Core strips away local control.

"It is a set of standards," she said. "It doesn't tell you how to teach. It doesn't dictate to anybody what you must think."

Joe Rella disagrees. He says the testing of Common Core standards ensures that schools will have to conform their curriculum.

"We can do what we want with it," he acknowledged. "But our students are still going to be subject to tests based on it."

The big questions right now: will the standards actually deliver and produce a new competitive generation?  Also, how many states will decide to drop out?

With parents applying pressure and politicians calling for a second look, they may in effect hit a giant "pause" button and halt the momentum.

Rubinstein said he hopes New York state lawmakers will at least agree to re-examine the standards.

"My hope is that they'll be successful," he said, "and that we'll go back to doing what we were doing successfully before -- educating our kids, locally."

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