House GOP, teachers’ union want to revisit Common Core

Rep. Noreen Kokoruda of Madison and other House Republicans want a review of new school curriculum standards.

Rep. Noreen Kokoruda of Madison and other House Republicans want a review of new education standards that will be linked to the Common Core standardized tests.

With the 2014 General Assembly session one week away, House Republican lawmakers and the leader of the state’s largest teachers’ union Wednesday called for a public review of the controversial Common Core education standards.

But a nonprofit education reform group backed by business leaders in the state quickly responded with a cautionary note, warning that nothing should delay the implementation of new standards, calling any push-back “unnecessary and counterproductive.”

Some districts began testing its students on these new standards this school year, and they will be in every district by next school year. The standards require that 50 percent of a district’s reading materials for students be nonfiction. While opponents of Common Core refer to this shift as the “death of fiction,” proponents say the heavy use of fiction in classrooms doesn’t help students prepare for the real world.

The new standards also will encourage teachers to really dig into teaching the fundamentals of math rather than glazing over everything quickly. Proponents say the present U.S. curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep.

In kindergarten through 2nd grade, the new mandate will focus on addition and subtraction. In 3rd through 5th grade, it will be to master multiplication and division.

With these changes, teachers are balking for several reasons. The number of students deemed proficient on the new tests is expected to drop from the current number of students deemed on track. Others are concerned with the costs associated with this initiative or  that teachers are being forced to teach to a test.

On Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state officials announced that they plan to ask the U.S. Department of Education to delay linking these new tests to the state’s new teacher evaluations for the 2014-15 school year, as the state has previously promised the federal government.

“A debate is taking place both nationally and within Connecticut about this (Common Core) program – the standards being used to gauge student progress as well as teacher evaluation,” said Rep. Tim Ackert of Coventry, ranking GOP representative on the Education Committee. “But there has been little discussion within the legislature over what these sweeping changes in our public schools will mean for our students, educators and parents.”

The House leader of the legislature’s Education Committee said during an interview that the approach Republicans are taking to seek a public hearing is worrisome.

“They have my cellphone number. I am a little surprised there was a press conference without giving me a phone call first” to ask for a hearing, Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said.

While he said the Republicans’ approach may not be the most effective way for them to get what they want, a hearing remains a possibility, though he would make no commitment.

The state’s largest teachers’ union has been hosting public forums across the state where hundreds of teachers are showing up to air their concerns with Common Core and the new evaluations.

Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said Common Core’s roll-out has been sloppy in many districts.

“All indications from the front lines of public education indicate these standards cannot be met in short order under the existing conditions in Connecticut’s classrooms. It’s time for a thorough review and careful consideration by professional educators in close collaboration with parents and the community,” Cohen said.

“There is no reason to rush forward with [Common Core] implementation when there are so many questions,” she said. “We have heard too many stories of too many students in tears when youngsters are confronted with their performance on standards that are foreign to them.”

This week, Malloy, a Democrat, also announced plans this week to create a task force to develop recommendations that would help implement Common Core.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said educators in her district are outspoken in their criticism both of Common Core as well as the new teacher evaluation system codified in state law by legislators from both parties in 2012 and provided funding for implementation in the adopted state budget in 2013.

“‘I am sick to death with worry,’” typifies the comments of local teachers and school officials, said Lavielle, a member of the legislature’s Education Committee. “This is what I hear again and again and again.”

“The true belief that they are being attacked and not being allowed to teach is worrisome,” added Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison.

The standards were crafted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association and accepted by the Connecticut State Board of Education in 2010 after former Connecticut Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed an agreement in 2009 to proceed with developing the standards.

But while House Republicans complained Wednesday that those standards haven’t been sufficiently analyzed by the General Assembly in nearly five years since they were first agreed upon, state lawmakers did codify them into practice in 2012.

Still, Republicans resisted any suggestion that public hearings and a general revisiting of these issues in 2014 were tied to the coming November elections.

“This isn’t a one-party issue,” Ackert said. “This is children we are talking about.”

Though Malloy and the legislature provided $24 millionto help school districts purchase the technology to implement Common Core, Ackert said many still lack the funding they need, particularly those that lack the necessary computer networks.

The student tests used as part of Common Core must be taken on computer.

While push-back has been strong to Common Core, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform said that “we will oppose any delay in implementation of the Common Core State Standards.”

Though public discourse is important, “districts have had plenty of time to establish aligned curricula and instruction,” the reform council added. “At this point, all schools should already have been teaching curricula that are Common Core aligned, and all students should already have been adjusting to these new standards for several years.”

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