AUGUSTA, Maine—Two Maine groups opposed to new educational benchmarks most states are using for reading, writing and math are working toward a statewide vote to repeal them, a step that is believed to be the first in the country.
Maine is one of the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core Standards since 2010 with the aim of better preparing students for colleges and careers and allowing them to be compared among states. The majority of Maine teachers will begin using them in their classrooms this fall.
But opponents have pushed back against the standards, saying they strip control from local school boards and will lead to a federal takeover of public schools.
The Maine Equal Rights Center and No Common Core Maine are planning to submit a ballot measure proposal to the state to repeal the standards, a route no other group has taken, said Heidi Sampson, co-founder of No Common Core Maine and member of Maine's Board of Education.
"The people of Maine will be able to have their voices heard," she said. "If this is not repealed, the parents of Maine will have no more voice when it comes to the education of their children. That's the harsh reality. I don't care how it's sugarcoated. When Washington, D.C., pulls the strings on education, there is no more local control."
Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to replace educational goals that varied greatly in each state. The federal government didn't create the standards but heavily promoted them and encouraged their adoption by tying them to some funding.
Anti-Common Core legislation, primarily backed by conservatives, has been introduced in several states, including Alabama and Missouri. In Michigan, Republicans recently blocked state funding for the implementation standards and are holding public hearings on them to learn more about the cost and other implications.
Erick Bennett, director of the Maine Equal Rights Center, said they hope to get the Common Core repeal on the November 2014 ballot. They will need to collect more than 57,000 signatures by February and Bennett said he is confident they could get as many as 100,000. If it comes to a vote, he said Common Core opponents will win "in a landslide."
"It doesn't matter what your ideology is," he said. "(Common Core) totally eliminates your involvement in how the money is spent and how your kids learn."
Supporters of Common Core say the standards do not dictate how teachers teach or what they teach.
But tying teacher evaluations directly to the Common Core assessments and then firing any teacher that doesn't "add value" to their students Common Core test scores sure does dictate how teachers teach and what they teach.
There used to be supporters of Common Core at my school before it became apparent that the standards were simply going to be used as bludgeons to fire teachers and close schools.
Kathleen Porter-Magee argues that education reformers have lost many classroom teachers because they tied evaluations to the new Common Core assessments:
There is no denying the very real anger and anxiety among many teachers over the accountability and evaluation reforms that have been enacted in many places over the past three years, particularly since many of those changes were adopted at the same time we’re asking teachers to align their instruction and assessment to much more rigorous expectations.
Of course, student achievement matters. And teachers play a big role in whether or not the children in their classes learn. Principals should unquestionably be able to consider achievement as one measure of effectiveness. And there was a very real problem these reforms were designed to solve: the policies and practices that had led to “a widget effect” where the best teachers were treated the same as the worst and almost everyone got a satisfactory rating every year. But addressing a real problem doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about unintended consequences. In this case, the top-down, state-led approach sparked an array of problems by violating the inherent localness of education in America and undermining the autonomy of school leaders.
After all, just because we should be able to use student achievement to drive decision-making doesn’t mean there is some magic formula into which you can plug data and be given an unassailable measure of a teacher’s worth. Yet, too many teacher-evaluation reforms try to do something distressingly close. They mandate the “percent” of an evaluation that should be driven by achievement results, regardless of in-school or teacher-specific factors, they dictate what observation rubrics should look like, and they give a false sense of precision to the whole idea of teacher evaluation.
The reality is that teacher evaluation is at least as much art as science. Yes, student achievement matters enormously. (And in those circumstances, trust is paramount.) No, we should not erect rules that forbid principals from considering test-score data when evaluating a teacher. But nor should we pretend that any formula exists that can take the place of the human judgment we need driving teacher-personnel decisions. (Of course, union leaders are as uncomfortable with principal-driven personnel decisions as they are with data-driven decisions, which is part of how we got into this debacle in the first place.)
And, we reformers need to acknowledge that our attempt to dictate teacher evaluation from on high—and our attempt to boil teacher effectiveness down to a sound bite—has contributed to a serious reform backlash in classrooms around the country.
The opposition to Common Core is only going to grow because they have thrust these unpiloted, untested standards, not backed by any research other than Bill Gates thinks they're swell, and pushed them onto most of the country, along with new teacher evaluation systems that tied "student performance" to tests based on the new Common Core.
There will be tests all the year through, in some cases both states tests and local tests, in every subject in every grade tied to the new Common Core standards simply so that teachers can be evaluated with the magic formula John King or some other ed deformer made up that supposedly shows "good teaching."
Students, parents and teachers, people of all political ideologies and beliefs, are joining the opposition and opt-out movements.
Bill Keller, Paul Krugman, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie can defend the CCFS all they want - when parents see their kids doing nothing but test prep all the year through in every class in every grade so that teachers can be evaluated and kids can be tracked through a national database, they're going to revolt.
And we're seeing that in state after state - from Indiana to Michigan to Ohio to Florida to New York to Maine.
This is just the beginning.