Ballot question in works for 2016 to ‘end Common Core’

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By Michael Norton

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON-As state education officials consider switching to a new exam that syncs up with national Common Core standards, activists and legislators are launching a ballot campaign with the goal of restoring the state’s education standards from 2010.

Donna Colorio, a Worcester School Committee member from 2011 to 2013 and founder of Common Core Forum, will chair the End Common Core Massachusetts ballot question, the group announced Wednesday.

The ballot effort comes as the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education considers whether to switch from the MCAS exam to the PARCC exam. The board at Gov. Charlie Baker’s request recently held a series of public hearings to gather feedback before deciding. Both Baker and his education secretary, James Peyser, have expressed reservations in the past about the Common Core standards.

“Massachusetts is at an educational crossroads. In 2007, Massachusetts became the highest-achieving state in the country because of the academic quality of our state standards, the state tests based on them (MCAS), and the state’s teacher licensing regulations and tests,” Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in a statement. “With the implementation of Common Core’s standards after their adoption by in 2010, we have started to decline in reading achievement. We need to stop the federal push for mediocre standards for all.”

Under former Gov. Deval Patrick, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in December 2010 unanimously signed off on efforts to incorporate the Common Core national standards into the state’s public education curricula. At the time, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said, “My sense of talking to folks around the state … is overall a lot of excitement, a lot of energy around the step forward these new standards represent.” In a memo on the standards, Chester called them “strong, comprehensive, and rigorous, reflecting the best thinking of educators in Massachusetts as well as nationally.”

According to the ballot group, Rep. Donald Berthiaume (R-Spencer) and Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Webster) are supporting the ballot effort.

In a statement, Berthiaume says he finds it “next to impossible” to help his fifth grade son with math. “As my son’s frustration with Common Core math continues, his desire to excel in math declines. As a parent with exceptional mathematical aptitude, I believe this CC math needs to go to way of the dinosaur,” Berthiaume said.

Fattman told the News Service he hoped the initiative petition campaign would spur a statewide debate about education standards. He said that while he was campaigning in 2014, he was repeatedly approached by parents, school committee members and school administrators with concerns about the Common Core standards, including the new costs associated with implementation efforts.

Passage of the ballot question, he said, would bring Massachusetts back to pre-2010 standards that he credited for helping Massachusetts secure the nation’s highest ranking for student achievement.

While the current Board of Education is trying to decide whether to move ahead with the PARCC exam, Fattman said there needs to be a “broader conversation” across the state about education standards and funding, including paying for technology infrastructure in schools.

“I learned there are a lot of people out there, this isn’t really on their radar,” he said.