Common Core opponents distribute video of Baker comments

Printed from:

Written by Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE — Gov. Charlie Baker, who later this year will be forced to take sides in the debate over Common Core, has so far used a light touch as the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education moves closer to a decision over whether to replace the MCAS exam with a new standardized test.

While the new PARCC test and five-year-old Common Core curriculum standards are distinct, their futures in Massachusetts are also seen as being closely tied together. Baker, who opposed Common Core in 2010, says he’s willing to “see what comes out of this” as he waits to hear the feedback received during public hearings on the state’s experiment with the new PARCC exam, designed to align with the national Common Core curriculum standards.

Baker expects the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to receive a report on PARCC at its September or October meeting, with a vote to adopt or reject PARCC statewide planned for November.

During an editorial board meeting with the North of Boston Media Group earlier this month, Baker said giving teachers, parents, administrators and the public “the chance to speak on this issue that they were denied in 2010” was a directive he gave to board chair Paul Sagan when he appointed him.

A video of the editorial board meeting exchange was circulated Wednesday by the group behind a ballot initiative to scrap the Common Core standards, which critics argue have weakened a Massachusetts school system that was already outperforming most other states. As a number of other states have recently abandoned Common Core or the PARCC exam, a group called End Common Core MA hopes to put a question on the 2016 ballot to force state education officials to revert the curriculum in Massachusetts public schools to the frameworks in place before Common Core was adopted in 2010.

“Our Massachusetts Education System was not broken; in 2010 we were winning. Our End Common Core MA ballot question seeks to return our state to the pre-Common Core standards and regain our title as #1 in Education in the Nation,” the group, led by Donna Colorio, wrote in a release.

The group took particular interest in Baker’s comment defending the performance of Massachusetts schools before Common Core, when the state ranked first in the nation multiple times in math and English.

In the clip from the meeting, Baker reminded attendees that he was the only person to testify before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 before he was governor against the adoption of the Common Core standards.

“It’s no secret I testified against it among other things because there was no process,” Baker said, noting that “two years of dialogue” preceded the adoption of the legacy MCAS testing system.

In the interview, Baker did not betray which way he might be leaning, but he is expected to begin reaching out to members of the board, which has undergone turnover since 2010, starting next month to collect their thoughts. Baker said the presentation to the board on the public hearing process could be delayed until October.

“I’m doing the best I can to kinda let that process play itself out at this point, but I thought what we were doing in Massachusetts was working pretty well,” Baker said, adding, “I’m willing to see what comes out of this.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, hired under former Gov. Deval Patrick, has been an outspoken proponent of Common Core and PARCC. He is the chair of the Governing Board of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education under Gov. Patrick adopted Common Core as part of its strategy to strengthen the state’s standing in President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top grant competition. Since then, the state has piloted the new PARCC exam, developed with financial support from the federal government. Over 50 percent of districts this past spring administered the new test in grades three through eight, and about a quarter of high schools tested PARCC for 9th and 11th graders.

Paul Reville, the state’s former education secretary who now teaches at Harvard, said he never would have supported Common Core unless he thought the standards were as high as what Massachusetts had before.

“I think it would be disruptive to the field to move away, and I think the qualitative substantive differences are not that substantial,” Reville told the News Service. “It would be a very choppy period of adjustment that would send mixed signals to the field and gets caught up in a debate over which set of high standards are we going to aim at rather than how do we hit the target.”

Reville said that despite being a national education leader, Massachusetts has been unable to close the “persistent achievement gap” among minority and low-income students. He said the debate over Common Core and PARCC has become a “political football” being juggled between those on the right who see Common Core as an affront to states’ rights and those on the left who have resisted accountability and want to move away from standardized testing.

“I worry that it becomes a diversion for the real work of improving student learning in Massachusetts,” Reville said. “I just don’t buy the argument that just because we lead the nation in student performance we keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Should Baker and the Board of Education reject PARCC, the state would likely need to develop a new or updated MCAS exam over the next few years to align with the school curriculum. Abandoning Common Core altogether, according to officials, would also require the state to undergo a time-consuming and potentially costly review of its frameworks.

Reville pointed to the example of Indiana as a cautionary tale. After Indiana officials decided to withdraw from Common Core, he said they quickly put their own stamp on a new set of curriculum guidelines that closely reflected Common Core. “It’s laughable that they think in a month’s time they’re going to develop a new set of standards,” he said.

Attorney General Maura Healey has until next Wednesday to certify ballot questions as constitutionally eligible before proponents can begin collecting signatures required to qualify for the 2016 ballot. The End Common Core MA petition would also establish committees made up of public school teachers and academics from private and public universities to review the state’s curriculum frameworks.

Copyright State House News Service