Time for Gov. Baker to take a stand on Common Core

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/29/time-for-gov-baker-to-take-a-stand-on-common-core/

As a sitting governor in a blue state, Charlie Baker must think he is immune from the upheaval in the Republican Party.

Before his election, Governor Charlie Baker went on record opposing the Common Core national standards. But since he took office, Massachusetts parents have heard barely a word from him about discarding Common Core and restoring the superior Massachusetts standards that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) jettisoned to obtain a $250 million federal bribe (i.e., Race to the Top funds). As the restoration battle intensifies, Baker is nowhere to be found.

Perhaps no state had less justification for ditching its own standards and adopting the untested, unpiloted Common Core scheme. Even Common Core proponents admitted that the state’s pre-Common Core standards were superior to Common Core.

Moreover, as detailed by the Pioneer Institute, the pre-Common Core standards had a track record of remarkable success. Those standards, along with reforms in testing and teacher-certification, helped catapult the state’s students into the upper echelons of performance on tests such as SAT, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. While achievement gaps between white and minority students narrowed slightly, all demographic groups significantly improved, something of possibly greater importance to minority parents than gap-closing.

If the private interests that created Common Core really wanted to improve education rather than consolidate power and make money, one would have expected them to use the Massachusetts standards as a model. But they didn’t.

While the Massachusetts English language arts standards emphasized the study of literature (because the state’s English teachers wanted that emphasis), the Common Core version pushes the development of “skills” honed on “informational text.” In math, the Massachusetts standards allowed a traditional Algebra I course to be taught in grade 8 and required teaching of the standard algorithms, whereas Common Core delays completion of Algebra I to grade 9 and delays teaching standard algorithms until after students have developed and used their own strategies (an approach discredited by experience in California and elsewhere).

To the surprise of no one, BESE’s imposition of Common Core has coincided with stagnating – or worse – student performance. The SAT scores of Massachusetts students have declined 20 points from their peak in 2006. According to a Pioneer report, “[in 2013] the percentage of Massachusetts third-graders scoring proficient or advanced on [state] reading tests fell to its lowest level since 2009. [In 2014] they stayed the same. At 57 percent, the portion of third-graders who are at least proficient in reading is 10 points lower than it was in 2002.” Governor Baker’s pre-election concern about Common Core has been richly validated.

But the Governor has done nothing to address the situation.  He has, however, appointed as his secretary of education someone who received millions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for charter schools in his previous position, and almost $70,000 from the Gates Foundation in his present position.

Exasperated Massachusetts parents have thus taken matters into their own hands. They’ve gathered thousands of signatures for an initiative petition to rescind BESE’s adoption of Common Core in July 2010 and restore the state’s superior pre-Common Core standards.  The petition was certified in September 2015 by the Attorney General’s office.

The Governor hasn’t uttered a word of support.

The parents’ petition is now being challenged by a lawsuit brought by the pro-Common Core Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (an organization that received over $600,000 in 2013-2015 from the Gates Foundation). Parents fighting for their children’s futures must now engage in an expensive legal battle against deep-pocketed groups determined to preserve the failing status quo.

And the Governor has said nothing.

But he isn’t silent on all education issues. No – he is actively supporting a different initiative petition, one to expand charter schools in Massachusetts(this petition contains about 25,000 signatures, compared to 80,000 on the anti-Common Core petition). The irony is that the “choice” provided by charter schools is meaningless unless Common Core is first eliminated. Charter schools must administer the Common Core-aligned tests, meaning they must teach Common Core. Expanding charters without removing the suffocating conformity of Common Core is wasted effort.

Why is Governor Baker so unwilling to lead in the Common Core fight?

Why is he apparently content to sit on the sidelines rather than help the parents who are putting it all on the line for their children?

Is it any wonder why an anti-Common Core Trump is now favored in the forthcoming state primary election?

Governor Baker, it’s time to stop fiddling while Boston burns.

Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty

Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty

Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty are senior fellows at the American Principles Project.