Common Core debate continues

The debate over Common Core in Ohio is far from over, as testimony continued throughout the last two weeks of August on Ohio House Bill 597, a bill sponsored by Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, that would completely scrap Common Core State Standards in Ohio.

After the new placeholder bill to rid the state of the standards was introduced earlier in August, it was sent to the Rules and References Committee, on which both Thompson and co-sponsor Matt Huffman, R-Lima, serve.

A series of hearings up to Aug. 27 saw superintendents, parents and education experts standing before the committee to testify for and against the Common Core standards, a national set of guidelines developed in 2010 for what students should be learning in each stage of education in English, language arts and math.

Proponents’ testimony of the bill took place Aug. 19 and Aug. 20 in front of the committee, while opponents took their turns Aug. 26 and Aug. 27.

“The testimony of the opponents was remarkably similar,” Thompson said. “It was ‘These are great standards, they’re wonderful, they’re going to help students.'”

The proposed bill would keep Common Core in place for 2014-2015, adopt Massachusetts standards for two years and then leave room for the state to write and adopt its own standards for 2017-2018.

“(Massachusetts standards) were written by teachers, parents, education experts and college-level experts as well, and they really did an excellent job of making people ready for college,” Thompson said. “They need some updating, but we get them free of charge, and we can modify them the way we want.”

Thompson argued that in contrast to the Massachusetts standards, Common Core and its accompanying PARCC assessment tests are costly because they are under a copyright, and are mostly backed by officials in the testing industry.

Out of the dozens of individuals who provided testimony supporting the bill was James Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a think tank responsible for many of the changes that formed the Massachusetts standards.

“It is well-known that those developing Common Core standards did so without broad public involvement, or meaningful public comment,” Stergios said. “There were no public hearings as the drafts moved along. Ohio parents, teachers and scholars were absent from the proceedings.”

By contrast, Stergios said, the Massachusetts standards support the idea of local control.

“The development of the (Massachusetts) standards and tests was on the front pages of our newspapers for years,” he said. “As a result, parents and teachers had an opportunity to follow and participate in the debate; they saw the controversies; and they could ultimately feel ownership of some very difficult and far-reaching reforms.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the bill and supporters of Common Core argued that the standards do in fact allow for local control and are only meant to provide universal, high standards to ensure students are as prepared as possible.

“Common Core standards were developed by the states, and they’re just standards,” said Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, who also serves on the Rules and References Committee. “They’re just the notion that your high school diploma should mean something.”

Phillips said she understands that those in opposition to Common Core have some legitimate concerns, but they are often concerns that are not addressed in the new bill.

“People are very concerned about the amount of testing involved, but unfortunately, the bill doesn’t address this,” she said. “We need to look at how tests are driving the classroom and how it’s had a tendency to create a narrower curriculum.”

Phillips also said the proposal to change from Common Core to Massachusetts standards and then to new Ohio standards is too much for educators and students alike.

“The bill would require three sets of standards in four years, which would create a lot of chaos for teachers,” she said. “It would change and change and change again, and it would be disruption in the classroom and create a lot of uncertainty for students.”

Opponents of the new bill included a wide range of individuals, including educators as close to the area as Athens City Schools Associate Superintendent and former Warren Local Superintendent Tom Gibbs, who testified in front of the committee Tuesday.

“I would not call myself a die-hard supporter of the Common Core,” Gibbs said. “I would, however, consider myself a supporter of common sense. It is illogical to presume that turning the clock back to 2010 and negating the implementation of these standards will advance the system of public education in Ohio.”

Gibbs argued that as an educator and parent, he scrutinized the standards through both lenses and still found them to be highly rigorous and up-to-par standards in keeping students on equal educational grounds.

Thompson said he and fellow sponsors have addressed concerns over the bill and plan to reintroduce a substitute House Bill 597 Thursday, in which time it will be considered for a few weeks before it can be voted out of committee and then eventually called to the floor for a vote.

Among possible amendments include addressing the rapidly changing standards, as the substitution will allow the Massachusetts standards to stay in place for three years instead of two to give teachers more time to adjust and give lawmakers more time to finalize Ohio’s own standards.

Thompson said a new version will also address criticism that his bill opens the door to allow intelligent design to be taught in schools.

“We will put that no any one specific perspective will be instituted at the exclusion of others,” Thompson said. “We want the school districts to have the ability to consider various perspectives.”

Common Core itself address only math, English, and language arts, but the state of Ohio has the option of creating new standards in all core subjects in the future, and Thompson noted that any science standards should not restrict a school district to one perspective.

“I use global warming as an example,” he said. “Whatever it is, it isn’t staying stagnant. You should critique and consider everything, rather than to cut any discussion of it off.”

Phillips and other house officials said it is not likely that any version of the bill will go to a vote until after the general election in November.