Voters may soon get to weigh in on charter schools, Common Core

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BOSTON — Proponents of two ballot initiatives aimed at reforming Massachusetts public education dropped off boxes of signed petitions to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office on Wednesday.

Sponsors of measures that would expand the number of public charter schools and prevent the state from continuing to rely on federal Common Core educational standards each said they had submitted more than the 64,750 certified signatures required to move the proposals forward.

Great Schools Massachusetts, a pro-charter school group, said that it turned in more than 73,000 signatures in favor of a ballot question that would ask Bay State voters whether the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should be permitted, at its discretion, to authorize 12 new charter schools a year, outside of an existing cap.

The grassroots group argues that the Board needs flexibility to accommodate the tens of thousands of students currently on charter school wait lists. Massachusetts law caps the number of charters at 120. Each charter is good for five years and can only be renewed if the school meets certain performance standards.

Last month hundreds of protesters, mostly black and Latino, rallied in favor of increasing the number of Massachusetts charter schools.

According to polls commissioned by pro-charter groups, 63 percent of Massachusetts residents support changing state law to allow greater flexibility with respect to charters. Last month, hundreds of protestors (mostly black and Latino families from under-privileged school districts) rallied in favor of the creation of additional charter schools.

Governor Charlie Baker has submitted his own charter school proposal to the state legislature. Baker’s proposal would accomplish the same objective without a statewide referendum and would also allow the schools to give preference to low-income students or those with special learning needs.

But Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), told WBZ on Sunday that he has concerns about the way in which charter schools are financed and also about the schools’ admission policies and student retention rates.

Rosenberg will decide early next year whether the Senate should tackle the charter school question or simply let voters decide.

The state’s largest teachers’ unions, which oppose charter schools and believe that they can defeat the measure at the polls, have written to Rosenberg asking the Senate not to get to involved.

Another education-related ballot question, drafted by End Common Core Massachusetts, asks voters to repeal the controversial federal education standards and return the state to the pre-2010 Massachusetts Standards. The homegrown standards were considered to be among the best in the nation.

End Common Core is a committee of parents, teachers and elected officials opposed to the Common Core standards, which focus on workplace readiness rather than general knowledge.  Common Core supporters argue that it is important to provide nationally-consistent standards of basic educational and workplace skills.  But opponents, including the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute, say the federal standards are inferior to those the state previously had in place and that the transition to Common Core has resulted in a “dumbing-down” of the curriculum.

Donna Colorio, Chairman of End Common Core, told the NewBostonPost that the committee on Wednesday submitted 80,000 certified signatures in support of the repeal measure.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted not to implement standardized tests created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College (PARCC), a national testing consortium based on Common Core. Instead of using the PARCC exam, the state plans to create a new test, often referred to as MCAS 2.0, that will combine elements of PARCC with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

“There is a misconception that Common Core has been dropped. It has not.”  Donna Colorio of End Common Core

Several news outlets have suggested that the decision by the Board to scrap the PARCC test is akin to a rejection by Massachusetts of underlying Common Core standards. But Colorio, who was recently re-elected to the Worcester School Committee, told the NewBostonPost Wednesday that a test that is modeled, even in part, after PARCC retains Common Core by definition, since PARCC is designed only for the purpose of measuring achievement of Common Core standards.

“You can try to rebrand things,” Colorio said, “but the parents will still see the homework coming home.

“There is a misconception that Common Core has been dropped here. It has not.”

Wednesday was the deadline for submission of signatures by groups seeking to put questions before voters on the 2016 ballot.

Galvin’s office next will verify that the signatures meet all legal requirements. Signatures must be legible with an address provided and no more than one quarter of the certified signatures may be collected form any one county.

Galvin will refer proposals with at least 64,750 verified signatures to Beacon Hill, where lawmakers have until the first Wednesday in May to approve the ballot questions. Should the Legislature fail to act, supporters have an opportunity to collect an additional 10,792 signatures to secure a spot on the November 2016 ballot.


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