Maine’s Battle Over Common Core Part One

Rob Poindexter

Updated 7 months ago

Maine lawmakers passed sweeping education reforms in 2010 without much fanfare. But now that those reforms are being implemented, a lot of parents and educators don’t like what they’re seeing.

In 2009, Maine signed on to what’s known as “Common Core.” State officials were enticed to do so by the chance at getting federal “Race to the Top” dollars and the promise of a waiver to get out of paying penalties for not meeting some of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

As the Common Core standards are being implemented in Maine schools, parents like Dennis Shelley of Jackman are starting to take notice. Shelley spent some time observing at his daughter’s school and was stunned by what he saw.

“I was a parent that just sent my kid off to school and said okay, everything is okay because you expect that. But then after sitting in the classrooms, that’s not the way it is. Kids aren’t getting the best that they should get,” Shelley said.

Parents like Shelley not being able to help their grade school kids with their homework has people scratching their heads.

The disgust and dismay prompted a group of people from all over Maine to start the group “No Common Core Maine.” They represent parents, teachers, school board members, and even a member of the Maine State Board of Education. They say “Common Core” is a multi-layered overhaul of how our kids are being taught, full of computerized tests, assessments and, perhaps the most controversial piece, data collection.

“The list of personal family data that’s getting sucked up into all this is just stunning,” said David Lentini, a former school board chair in SAD #60 in North Berwick. “Incomes, parental info like what’s your house like, are your parents divorced. I mean all of these things. Along with your kids test scores, their homework scores, their attendance records, their disciplinary records and somehow out of this, you’re supposed to get a better education, but no one’s explained any of it. It’s just a big black box. It is the most intrusive data collection I can think of. I mean, except to go back to totalitarian society.”

Lentini said as he learned more about “Common Core”, the more bizarre and worrisome it became. The more vocal he became in his opposition, the more uncomfortable life on the school board became and he eventually resigned from the board in January.

The members of NCCM have a long list of issues with Common Core, and near the top of the list is the sheer legality of the state dictating curriculum to school boards.

“The Commissioner of Education had no right to make these decisions for all of the school boards of the state. So these laws really are null and void. If one of the boards would just stand up and say no we’re not gonna do Common Core, we’re not gonna give you our data, we’re not gonna do the testing period. And if the state board came back and said we’re not gonna give you your EPS funding or something like that, then you’ve got the basis for a lawsuit,” said Lentini.

While Common Core are the standards students need to hit, the vehicles schools use to get their students to meet the standards are up to the school boards. Some schools in the state are using the Mass Customized Learning approach which is generating as much, if not more, outrage than Common Core itself. MCL is being called the “every kid gets a trophy” approach to education and critics say it snuffs out any motivation for a student to excel.

“This sort of Utopian approach where you can address each kid individually. You as a teacher with 25 or 30 kids can handle each one individually and that somehow everybody has a unique path that can be identified and followed productively in a classroom. That’s the basic idea of Mass Customized Learning,” Lentini said.

Other members of “No Common Core Maine” say the curriculum and standards have taken the teaching out of teaching and turned educators into test givers. When students don’t do well on tests, teachers are told to test them again and again until scores improve.

“How can you do well on a test if you are not taught anything,” said Heidi Sampson, a NCCM board member. “Parents are starting to see bits and pieces of it. Yes you start with the homework assignments coming home that are very confusing and complicated. Parents can’t help their children with their math assignments in third and fourth grade.”

Sampson argues that traditional ways to do math are being dismissed in favor of a system where it’s more important to get the process right as opposed to getting the answer right.

“Math is an exact science. Math is the one thing that’s like no, there is no halfway right. You’re either right or you’re wrong when it comes to math.”

The people here are concerned that if this is the failure they think it will be, we risk losing an entire generation of students and teachers.

“This is the biggest uncontrolled experiment in the history of public education,” Lentini said. “Instead of throwing us all into the deep end of a dark pool, if we had simply spent the money doing what we know would improve things for everybody, where would we be?”
In part two of this series airing tomorrow night, you’ll hear some strong rebuttal as Maine’s Education Commissioner Jim Rier, will defend the Common Core Standards, known here as the Maine Learning Results.

To see the Maine Learning Standards: http://www.maine.gov/education/lres/

To learn more about No Common Core Maine: http://www.commoncoremaine.com


  • BradfordPOV

    The standards were written in secrecy by people with no teaching experience. Hundreds of early child education experts have criticized the standards for being age inappropriate. This is an experiment folks!
    The standards were never tested anywhere and do not reflect previously proven standards from states like Massachusetts, Indiana or California.
    All the people in the Maine DOE that pushed this through have now left to work for the organizations that either wrote the standards or are testing the standards.
    The claim is that it will make graduates “College and Career Ready” yet it cannot be explained what that means or if it is attainable. New York state is a year ahead of Maine with implementation and testing. It has been a fiasco and everyone from the students to the superintendents are unhappy. Parents must research this and contact you state legislators.

    • JMLeonard

      The standards were written by the companies that make and sell the curriculum and write and score the tests. It’s a giant, nationwide business plan to make them a lot of money by directing all of the U.S. taxpayer money for education into their coffers. And before people get all concerned over testing he quality of our education system and “how will we know if our kids are learning if we don’t test them?” please consider that the tests are being scored by seasonal temps, with no background in education, making $10 an hour who need to read some dozens of essays an hour. They are looking for a few key words and a formulaic answer. How is that for an assessment of college and career readiness? Wouldn’t you rather have your child’s teacher, who knows them and sees them daily and is aware of their stengths and interests and their growth through the school year, as well as having a Masters degree and real world experience, grading your child’s work?

      SURELY, the “stakeholders” in education can see that this is a disaster — perhaps they can outsource the scoring our our children’s tests to overseas companies and make this all more profitable for Pearson and Microsoft. (sarcasm)

  • goldenshepard

    The “stakeholders” do not care as most of them no longer have children in the schools. The ” stakeholders ” will get together and “collaborate” the “best practices” for the “Learner’s” not the parents. Learn their “annoying “buzzwords”. Then you will know who you are dealing with up front.

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