Congressman talks about Common Core

Congressman Bill Johnson played host to a town hall meeting on education Tuesday, with most of the conversation focused on the controversial Common Core learning standards.

More than 20 people, many of them officials with local schools, gathered in a classroom at the Washington County Career Center where Johnson, R-Ohio and a Marietta resident, laid out his concerns about the Common Core, on which Ohio schools will base their curricula this year, and fielded questions on other topics.

“We have to ask ourselves, is this really a state-based movement or is it the erosion of states’ rights?” Johnson said. “The federal government should not penalize states if they want to pursue education initiatives outside the Common Core.”

The Common Core standards were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers and are tied to federal funding under the Race to the Top initiative, in addition to waivers from the No Child Left Behind standards.

Critics have recently begun to question the strength and content of the standards and what some see as the expansion of the federal government’s role in education, legally the province of state and local governments. Proponents say it is simply a means of ensuring that students around the country are learning the same material at the same grade level and is not a federal initiative.

Johnson voted for the Student Success Act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, which would not prevent states from adopting Common Core or working collaboratively to develop standards. What it would do is sever the tie between adopting an approved set of standards – of which Common Core is the only one – and receiving federal funding, he said.

“What we don’t need is the federal government telling us how to educate our children,” Johnson said.

Wolf Creek Local Schools Superintendent Bob Caldwell pointed out that Ohio schools are implementing state standards based on Common Core this year. Changing direction now would be a costly endeavor.

“I’m not for or against Common Core. It’s the law,” Caldwell said.

Johnson said there are additional costs associated with the transition, including setting up the infrastructure for the related assessments. As for abandoning the standards in favor of something else, “that’s up to the states and that’s up to the people living in the states,” he said, adding he would tell his representative he opposes Common Core.

David Flinn, a Vienna resident and member of West Virginians Against Common Core, said his group has been working to raise awareness of the standards and the problems with them, including data-mining – gathering personal data on students such as their parents’ political affiliation.

“The data collection feedback is absolutely (essential) to the success of this Common Core,” he said.

Johnson said he also opposes unnecessary questions of students on the assessments, including things like how many bedrooms are in their house.

But Caldwell said he’s not aware of such questions being included in the planned assessments.

“Have I ever seen that? No. But if it’s in there, I’ll fight it,” he said.

Caldwell said his concerns are focused more on the assessments themselves, including whether schools have the technological infrastructure to properly administer them. The assessments are to be completely computer-based.

Johnson also showed a video he narrates touting the House Republicans’ push for a goal of U.S. energy independence by 2020, intended to jumpstart innovation and interest in education the way President John F. Kennedy’s call for the moon landing did in the ’60s.