Committee forms to oppose Common Core ballot question

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BOSTON – Former Fitchburg State University president Robert Antonucci will lead a new committee to fight a ballot question that would allow Massachusetts voters to weigh in on whether to repeal Common Core educational standards.

The Committee to Protect Educational Excellence in Massachusetts plans to organize a coalition of Common Core supporters, raise funds and wage a campaign to defeat the citizens’ initiative, according to a statement put out by the group Friday.

Antonucci, who served as president of Fitchburg State College from 2003 through 2015, previously served as Massachusetts education commissioner from 1992 to 1998.

The draft ballot question that Antonucci’s group opposes asks Massachusetts voters whether the state should keep Common Core, adopted here in 2010, or revert to the state’s own pre-Common Core standards.

“I cannot think of a tactic more dangerous to our schools and children,” Antonucci said in a statement. “Taking an ax to all the hard work that’s been done by Massachusetts educators in the past five years would be both financially devastating and horribly disruptive to the state education system.”

Antonucci has his work cut out for him. A February poll by WBZ and the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows voter support for the measure to scrap the controversial standards.  Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they planned to vote “Yes” on the question whether “to remove Common Core state standards for mathematics and English language arts.” Twenty-three percent said they would vote “No,” and 26 percent responded that they are not sure how they will vote. It is these undecided voters that Antonucci’s committee must win over, if they are to prevail in November.

Massachusetts was one of the first states to adopt the Common Core standards, which were developed by the National Governors Association. Like many states, Massachusetts chose to replace its homegrown standards with Common Core in order to improve the state’s chance of winning a chunk of the federal government’s $4 billion pool of “Race to the Top” money.

Upon implementation, however, many parents and teachers became concerned that Massachusetts achievement levels started to decline.

Common Core opponents complain that the standards substitute too many nonfiction texts for classical literature and de-emphasize the traditional approach to teaching mathematics in favor of a holistic approach that emphasizes understanding over memorization.

But proponents claim the standards are necessary to equalize schools nationwide, better prepare students for work and college, and help pupils prepare to compete globally.

Donna Colorio, a Worcester School Committee member and the leader of the End Common Core Massachusetts group, is spearheading the ballot question effort. Her committee submitted 80,000 certified signatures to the Secretary of State’s office last year in support of allowing voters to have a say on the standards.

But on Jan. 22, ten plaintiffs, including Antonucci, sued to stop the measure from reaching the voters on the ground that the question was not properly certified. The lawsuit, which is still pending before the Supreme Judicial Court, is being coordinated by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education which receives financial support from the Bill Gates Foundation.

Colorio told the Worcester Telegram that she plans to boost campaign efforts in response to the new committee, and that her network aims to garner another 11,000 signatures in May to secure a slot on the statewide ballot.

“It doesn’t matter how much (Common Core proponents) spin this, the teachers and the kids know the truth,” she said. “The public has lost faith in Common Core. I say we cut our losses and return to the standards we had in Massachusetts prior to 2010.”

NBP staff writers contributed to this report.