Arizona Defending Common Core
State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal faced down about 90 conservative critics at a meeting Monday and delivered a clear message: The Arizona Common Core Standards are here to stay.
The new state academic standards replace those that the annual AIMS assessment are based on and will go into full effect in Arizona public school classrooms at the start of the school year.
“The Common Core standards are going to be a shock to the system,” Huppenthal acknowledged. Research by his staff predicts that as few as 30 percent of Arizona students will be prepared for a tougher assessment that will replace the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test in 2015.
“It’s going to be a huge wake-up call.”
Most who attended Monday’s event, hosted by an East Valley group called Arizona Liberty Revolution Meetup, appeared to have no specific gripes with the standards themselves, which aim to improve K-12 math and reading skills.
Rather, they showed up at Heritage Academy charter school in Mesa to voice unhappiness over their perception that the standards represent a new federal mandate that will give federal officials license to determine school lesson plans and textbooks.
Huppenthal spent a large portion of the meeting debunking that assertion.
“The standards were developed by education officials from the states — my own staff was involved,” he said. “I do not think Common Core is a federal government initiative.”
He urged the audience not to focus on “overheated rhetoric” by conservative commentators, but to get involved with their own children’s schools to make sure that the best textbooks and curricula are being used in Arizona classrooms.
“Every textbook publisher out there has taken a label that says ‘Aligned with the Common Core’ and put it on their books,” he said. “But that does not mean the textbook is aligned. This needs to be questioned at the local level.”
Although the standards were approved by the Arizona State Board of Education in 2010, Huppenthal in recent months has responded to a number of political and civic groups that have concerns about them. He has a fact sheet that states the following:
The Common Core Standards are a common set of learning expectations developed by participating states to address common problems all states are facing.
There is no federal law or regulation requiring the adoption of the standards. Local school boards retain the same level of authority as they had prior to the adoption of the standards.
The Arizona State Board of Education can make changes to academic standards at any time. Good standards shouldn’t change very often, but over time should evolve based on what is learned from research, from educators in the field and from student assessments.
Higher education and business leaders across Arizona, and nationwide, support the standards. They recognize that students who master the expectations found in the Common Core will be college- and career-ready. The demand for these higher, more rigorous standards originated from the business and higher-education leaders in the first place.
The standards are not a curriculum. Rather, they are a set of goals that outline what students should know and be able to do in each grade in English and math. Decisions about how to teach the standards — curriculum, tools, materials, and textbooks — are left to local decision-makers.
One audience member, Wesley Harris of Moon Valley, on Monday filed a petition with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office to create a political-action committee called We the People AZ Against the Common Core.
He said the group has the same members as one that is working to repeal Medicaid expansion in Arizona. Its goal is to get financial support for a ballot initiative to repeal the Common Core.
Harris said he has read the standards and believes they will reduce the quality of public education in Arizona.
“I’ve read the standards, and they are anything but,” he said. He called Huppenthal’s explanation of the changes to Arizona education “bold-faced lies and facts that aren’t facts.”
Payson Unified School District board member Shirley Dye, meanwhile, talked about the stress that the transition from Arizona’s current standards to the Common Core is putting on staff in her rural district.
“Teachers are stressed to the max,” she said. “We have many, many people who are just retiring. It’s a mess.”
To others, the new standards appeared to be a lightning rod for issues ranging from unhappiness with local property taxes to fears about loss of student privacy as electronic test results are stored by the state.
Huppenthal said he personally believes that tests like the AIMS and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which will replace the AIMS, should be optional. He said he introduced a bill to that effect in the Legislature a few years ago but it got no support.
“I am not a standards person,” he said. “I believe in decentralization. But 70 percent of the public supports standards, so we are going to have standards.”
One thing Huppenthal does support is making the state’s previous standards tougher. The old standards did not do enough to prepare students for college or middle-class careers after high school, he said.
“We are misleading students into believing they are prepared,” he said. “But they are not.”