By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
FOND DU LAC — Marcia Alder of West Bend beams when she talks about her three school-aged children, calling them “brilliant.”
Alder, however, has seen a change in her kids since the new Common Core State Standards were adopted in the Slinger school district.
School isn’t fun for her children anymore, she told Wisconsin Reporter while standing in the hallway outside a public hearing on the standards in Fond du Lac. Alder’s kids complain of increased busywork and say they are bored in the classroom.
“I have no doubt for low performing schools (the standards are) bringing you up,” Alder testified at the hearing. “For high performing schools, these aren’t cutting it. This is not rigorous, this is not advanced.”
Alder’s testimony echoed experts Duke Pesta, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Sandra Stotsky, who sat on the Common Core validation committee.
Stotsky called the validation process “invalid” and that the English Language Arts committee included no English professors or high-school English teachers. The body was there to rubber stamp the already written standards, she said. Stotsky, as the only content expert on the panel, refused to sign off on it.
Slinger school district Superintendent Daren Sievers, like most administrators and education bureaucrats in the state, supports Common Core.
“This is rigorous, this is more clear (than previous Wisconsin standards),” he said. Still, he said, the school district is “trying to shoot beyond what’s in the Common Core.”
Slinger began implementing Common Core standards two years ago. Last year, the district piloted the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium computerized, standardized tests that will be used by more than half the states that signed on to Common Core.
Smarter Balanced received a $175 million, four-year grant in Race to the Top Funds from the Obama administration to develop new standardized tests for nearly 30 states.
Part of the Smarter Balanced “theory of action” is to provide teachers with “curriculum, instructional materials, rich professional development and other supports and resources to effectively instruct teachers on the standards.”
Supporters of Common Core say they are simply a set of expectations that says what kids should be able to do in school and at what grade levels. Opponents say that’s missing the forest for the trees.
Under Common Core, for example, students don’t learn standard algorithm – think traditional addition or subtraction – until fourth grade now. Prior to that, kids learn “regrouping.” Instead of stacking 17 on top of 32 and adding the ones column, then the tens column; students group 10 with 30 and 7 with 2 horizontally. Then they add 40 and 9 to come to the answer.
Alder said the SBAC pilot test asked her child for the methodology he would use to find the answer, not for the answer to the problem itself.
“The only way you can know that is if you were taught a curriculum based on Common Core,” she said. “So the standardized federally mandated test dictates the curriculum that dictates the textbooks that are Common Core compliant.”
Another parent at the Fond du Lac hearing said she pulled her two kids from public school last year due to Common Core. One said she wasn’t seeing homework coming home from school anymore since everything was done on the computer. Another said a question on a test from a Common Core aligned textbook asked her middle school daughter to find the pronoun in the following sentence:
“Rich people are too callous and greedy to realize they are destroying the middle class.”
Examples of objectionable material aligned to Common Core appear across the Internet. Supporters say that’s where local control comes in — to ferret out inappropriate material before it makes its way to the classroom.
It’s not always that easy in practice. Slinger had its own run-in with a poorly thought out lesson pulled from a website that says it’s aligned to Common Core. The lesson asked students to interview their family members to get a history of family diseases and turn the answers in to the teacher — a violation of health information privacy laws.
After parents like Alder complained, the principal at the middle school intervened.
“I’m assuming it was something that got into the curriculum and there wasn’t enough forethought on HIPAA laws,” said Bruce Hassler, vice president of the Slinger school board. Hassler characterized the lesson plan as a “well-intentioned” mishap.
That’s precisely what Alder says about Common Core.
Contact reporter Ryan Ekvall at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @Nockian.