Maine’s Battle Over Common Core Part One

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