Common Core Standards debate hits Basehor
With the 2014 Kansas state legislative session quickly approaching and the debate over Common Core standards intensifying, Basehor-Linwood School District Superintendent David Howard brought the debate home to Basehor by bringing parents, teachers and residents together to dispel some “myths” about the standards.
The problem is that people on both sides of the Common Core debate think the other side is spreading the myths. Meanwhile, at the center of the issue, and what both sides are ultimately fighting for, is what is best for students in Kansas.
“I believe there is a lot of misinformation out there,” Howard told the group of about 50 who gathered at the Basehor Community Library last week. “I wanted to show you what Common Core is from the educators’ perspective.”
Howard is in favor of Common Core in Kansas. He provided pamphlets to the audience outlining why he thinks the standards adopted by the state in 2010 are good for students and schools. State Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, attended Howard’s forum despite opposing the continuation of Common Core, citing worries about cost and the sharing of personal student and family information with the federal government.
“I want to know all sides,” Dove said after the meeting. “The students needs are what come first, not what Democrats or Republicans want.”
While the future of Common Core standards, now known as the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards, is up in the air, people are still debating its roots. In 1992, state law directed the state board of education to adopt a set of academic standards in core subjects as well as a method for testing those standards. According to the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), the state was then due to update its set of standards in 2010 when committees of Kansas educators and department of education staff began evaluating Common Core. After a year of study, according to the KASB, the state board of education adopted Common Core with a vote of 7-to-1 and Kansas became one of the 45 states nationally to do so.
As Howard argues, Common Core was developed from the “bottom up,” by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers as well as by a group of business and technology leaders including the Gates Foundation. Opposition to Common Core argues that these groups did not effectively represent every state or each state’s educational requirements but developed the standards to meet rising international education levels.
Dove likened Common Core implementation to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“There was no testing of Common Core to say that this will work and will improve test scores,” Dove said.
Dove also expressed concerns that the federal Department of Education would have more access to individual student information and student families’ information through the national Common Core testing database.
Howard, in his presentation, said that Common Core provided no more data than what is already shared.
Parents at the meeting raised questions about how the standards affect their child’s ability to learn on an individual level, whether the child is at the top of his or her class or at the bottom.
Julie Loevenstein, a 4th grade teacher at Basehor-Linwood Elementary School, said teaching the Common Core standards has been a rewarding process that allows teachers to maintain their own curriculum without leaving any child behind. Although there are uniform standards, Loevenstein said, the teachers and individual school districts still have the freedom to design their own curriculum.
“Just like raising four kids in one household,” Loevenstein said, “you raise them all the same way but they all turn out different and unique.”
Howard said that the Basehor-Linwood School District began implementing the Common Core reading standards in 2011 and just began teaching the Common Core math standards in 2012. He said, speaking for his own district, the transition has been a good one and has received positive feedback from both teachers and students.
“There are less standards than there have been in the past,” Howard said, “but the standards are more intense and more rigorous.”
Jim Mullins, grassroots director for the eastern Kansas sector of American For Prosperity, expressed his concern for the cost of testing students in grades 3-8 four times per year online, as Common Core requires, and once per year in high school. Dove said after the meeting that the state would have to install four times more bandwidth capabilities in the state’s schools to be able to test students - something he said would be “astronomically expensive” although he couldn’t provide a figure.
Howard said, speaking only for Basehor-Linwood, that the schools already have the necessary bandwidth and can already support the testing without much additional cost. He added that students in the Basehor-Linwood district have already been testing online for the past seven years.
“What will be more expensive is if, during the legislative session, they defund Common Core,” Howard said. “Because then we have to go back and completely reassess our standards and undo the work we’ve been doing for the past three years.”