Maine Common Core foes cross party lines to push repeal

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AUGUSTA, Maine – A bipartisan group of Maine lawmakers is pushing a measure to repeal national education standards, known as Common Core, adopted by the state in 2011.

State Rep. Will Tuell (R-East Machias) submitted a bill in late December that would replace Maine’s Common Core standards by 2017. Tuell’s proposal is supported by lawmakers, including leading Democrats, the Maine Education Association and tea-party activists.

The movement to adopt the Common Core standards started in 2009, led by a group of governors and state commissioners of education nationwide who sought a streamlined curriculum that included proficiency standards that would apply nationwide.

In 2011, led by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Maine became the 42nd state to adopt Common Core.

Proponents of Common Core argue that the standards equalize schools nationwide, better prepare students for work and college, and help pupils prepare to compete globally through a competitive and advanced curriculum.

But in recent years Common Core has come under fire from parents and teachers who oppose its time-consuming testing schedule, as well as from activists and educators who decry the loss of local control, the lack of political transparency in adopting the standards, and the standards’ emphasis on skills detached from content.

Five years after pushing for his state to adopt Common Core, Gov. LePage now opposes the national standards. His stance changed shortly after his education commissioner departed in 2013 to work for a national Common Core group.

Last year, an effort by the Maine Legislature to repeal the standards failed.

Tuell remains undaunted, despite the setback.

“This issue isn’t going to go away, and ignoring the concerns of the families who access public education is really not an option,” Tuell said recently by email. His bill would let local districts remove Common Core standards from their schools by 2017 and use alternative methods to determine “learning results.”

The measure he submitted last month differs from the bill that failed last year in two ways, Tuell said. It would let local jurisdictions keep Common Core or revert to Maine’s former state standards, and it would create a stakeholder group to formulate new state standards.

Tuell said that, increasingly, other states have experienced educational “growing pains.” He said some policy makers who once supported the idea of national standards have become skeptical of the top-down approach, now that they have seen the effects of applying national standards.

 “It is, essentially, a repeal and replace bill,” he said of his proposal. He said the bill’s sponsors have “worked to frame the issue not as a Republican or Democrat issue, rather as an issue of parents, communities, and teachers having greater say in their local schools.”

The bill, LD 1492, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Education Standards in Maine,” has nine co-sponsors, including House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan), and is set for a hearing Monday before the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs in Augusta.

“These assessments have nothing to do with academics,” Heidi Sampson, a Maine State Board of Education member and No Common Core Maine member, wrote in a Bangor Daily News op-ed.

Maine’s Common Core standards “often lack developmental appropriateness and clarity,” the Maine Education Association says on its website. It blames the limited role given to teachers and parents in their development, the 24,000-member teachers’ union says, while pointing out disparities in the way the standards are interpreted and applied from one district to another.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the original proponents of the Common Core standards initiative.