Lawmakers target controversial new Common Core curriculum and testing

By Glynis Kazanjian

Kimberlee Shaw and Kelly Thompson, members of Parental Awareness for Common Core, protest at Lawyer's Mall in Annapolis.

Kimberlee Shaw, left, and Kelly Thompson, members of Parental Awareness for Common Core, protest at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis.

A flurry of bills trying to slow down or stop the implementation of the new Common Core educational curriculum in Maryland are about to hit the legislative dockets, according to Sen. Edward Reilly, a Republican on the education committee that oversees it.

On Thursday, Reilly and four other Republican senators introduced two bills related to testing and teacher evaluation based on testing.

One (SB578) requires each local school board to set the timeline for fhe new standardized tests based on Common Core curriculum, but no sooner than June 30, 2015

The other bill (SB579) delays any evaluations of teachers and principals based on standardized testing until at least the same time next year.

At a hearing Tuesday night in Annapolis, Reilly and other members of the Anne Arundel County delegation met with state and county education leaders to discuss an imperfect roll out of Common Core and a barrage of complaints from constituents — primarily educators and parents — who feel stressed, uninformed and out of the loop.

“It’s great to race to the top, but not rush to the top because you don’t want to leave any child behind,” Reilly said to education officials. He then asked what financial repercussions the state would face if there was a delay.

Parents rally with concerns about new curriculum

Before the hearing, parents from across the state gathered in Annapolis in Lawyer’s Mall next to the State House to rally against Common Core. About 30 mothers and fathers showed up in the subfreezing weather carrying signs protesting the curriculum change, and about 100 people packed into the hearing room to listen to the delegation meeting.

Kathy Butler, a Baltimore County parent, protests at the Parental Awareness of Common Core rally in Annapolis.

Kathy Butler, a Baltimore County parent, protests at the Parental Awareness of Common Core rally in Annapolis.

Common Core was developed in partnership with the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

In 2009, the Obama administration announced its Race to the Top initiative, which awarded grants to states to adopt educational standards consistent with Common Core. Today 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of Common Core, however some school systems are beginning to express buyer’s remorse.

The Common Core curriculum was adopted by Maryland in 2010, but is required to be fully implemented during this school year. Educators are also expected to administer the Maryland Standardized Assessment test (MSA) on the old curriculum while field testing the new curriculum.

The state says educators had ample time to roll out the new program, but lawmakers across Maryland continue to hear from constituents who are being asking to hit the pause button.

“One of the big issues is that parents aren’t finding out about the reforms until they are implemented,” said Ann Miller, a Baltimore County parent with three children in public schools. Miller started two Facebook groups for followers who oppose Common Core. Combined, there are over 5,000 followers.

“There is also a serious concern over data collection and privacy matters,” said Anne Arundel parent Kelly Thompson, founder of Parental Awareness for Common Core (PACC), also based on Facebook.

“Tracking kids from cradle to career,” is the Common Core lingo, Thompson said.

Slew of issues on Common Core attract lawmakers’ attention

“The one unifier is that this thing needs to slow down,” said Republican Del. Ron George. George, who is running for governor, plans to introduce two Common Core bills this session that would preserve the rights of local school boards to set education curriculum and protect student information from being shared without parental or student permission.

“You don’t want it to come back to haunt them,” George said.

Anne Arundel Public Schools gave a presentation on Common Core to legislators Tuesday night.

Anne Arundel Public Schools gave a presentation on Common Core to legislators Tuesday night.

So many issues of the new curriculum roll out, and its testing requirement, have become controversial that lawmakers are faced with addressing the issues through different bills. Reilly said he expects between 20 and 30 bills to surface.

In one of the more severe measures proposed, Del. Michael Smiegel has filed a bill (HB76) to repeal Common Core entirely. A another bill introduced by Reilly (SB408) would delay the implementation of Common Core.

Bipartisan bills to block use of old tests

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke, D- Montgomery, would stop the Maryland Standardized Assessment (MSA) test from being administered this spring. The same bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Nancy King with a majority of the senators as co-sponsors.

The MSA test is not fully aligned with the Common Core curriculum, and the test — which will be phased out next year — will cost $6 million to administer.

The bill Reilly introduced Thursday would delay the administration of the Common Core annual standardized tests, known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) for at least a year. Schools are slated to begin electronically administering the new standardized test in full next year.

Local school systems have requested $100 million in updates to be ready for the tests.

Parents ask for more forums, communication with teachers, principals

Kimberlee Shaw, who co-founded the parents advocacy group with Thompson, said she would like to have forums and get input from teachers, principals and parents, something she said was absent when the state was approving the new curriculum.

MSDE_LogoBut state education officials argue the roll out of Common Core has been “unprecedented” and has been ongoing for years. There were no “formal” hearings  prior to adopting the curriculum, state education spokesman William Reinhard said.

State officials also say local educational decisions are protected in the Common Core curriculum, which only provides a base framework, but the state board has the authority to set educational standards.

Reinhard said in 2010 the state began regularly discussing Common Core at monthly meetings with superintendents. In 2011, the state announced Common Core on its website and began hosting four-day regional workshops for every principal in the state, including staff members.

“These were designed to slowly roll out the Common Core so it was no surprise to any educator, and to help them develop their curriculum to develop their standards,” Reinhard said.

State education department reaching out to schools

School districts were instructed to announce Common Core on their websites. In 2012 and 2013, the state provided Common Core flyers for back-to-school packets.

In the spring of 2013, the state hosted seven regional “educator effectiveness” workshops in collaboration with the state parent-teacher association. Finally, Reinhard said, in the summer of 2013, the state began emailing principals directly to tighten up the communication gap between the state and local schools – a step the state superintendent of schools acknowledged, in a December hearing, was missing.

At Tuesday night’s hearing, Anne Arundel County officials acknowledged communicating to “stakeholders” had been a challenge. They said additional parents forums are planned for the spring.

“We need to look at legislation that has a chance of passing,” Shaw said, who acknowledged that a bill calling for a complete repeal of Common Core may not pass.

“We would like to be able to vote on our children’s education policy,” said Baltimore County parent Kathy Butler.