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Groups on right and left oppose Common Core standards in PA

May 18, 2013 by

By Eric Boehm –

HARRISBURG – They don’t always agree on education policy, but when they do, it’s to oppose an unfunded mandate on school districts.

PASS THE TEST: A new test will determine whether high school students can graduate, but the standards used for those assessments is raising some questions.

PASS THE TEST: A new test will determine whether high school students can graduate, but the standards used for those assessments is raising some questions.

The implementation of the so-called Common Core standards in Pennsylvania public schools is facing united opposition from teachers unions and tea party groups – two political factions that rarely, if ever, play on the same team.  Though they have different reasons for opposing the Corbett administration’s phase-in of the new academic standards and the testing that comes with them, both groups agree that the Common Core represents a new, unfunded mandate on the state’s 500 school districts.

The Common Core is a national set of goals and expectations – not, strictly speaking, a curriculum – for public schools.  It is an outgrowth of the federal No Child Left Behind program and was adopted by Pennsylvania in 2010, though the state made changes to match the national standards with pre-existing state standards.

Along with the new standards comes a new form of standardized test, known as the Keystone Exam, which will be given to all students during 11th grade.  Though they were originally developed independent of the Common Core, the state has adapted them to fit the new standards and began administering them this year.

But that test is causing some of the concern.  If students fail the new Keystone Exams more than twice, they will be given the option to complete a non-test assessment to prove they have the knowledge necessary to graduate.

Teachers’ unions and Democrats say those rules will require extra time and effort from teachers, and they don’t see the state being willing to put up the extra cash necessary to cover costs.

“Putting an unfunded mandate disguised as a genuinely needed attack on crashing academic performance, during a time when the governor is erasing state support, is unconscionable,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks.

The total bill for the new standards, according to various groups opposed to the Common Core, will total between $300 million to $645 million.

The state Department of Education says those costs are inaccurately counted.

Districts will be relieved of some mandates – such as a “graduation project” that students must now complete – and other costs are being double-counted by opponents, according to the DOE. For example, districts would have pay to do replace their textbooks even if there was no Common Core, said DOE spokesman Tim Eller.

But there are still some questions.

The State Board of Education, an executive level agency charged with making regulations for the state’s school districts, reported in 2012 that the implementation of the new standards would not impose new costs. But the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission disagreed with that assessment, finding that the board’s analysis “does not adequately address fiscal impacts.”

The Common Core is set to become the new state standards on July 1, unless there is legislative or executive action to delay it.

The two largest teachers unions in Pennsylvania say that’s exactly what should happen, and several conservative groups agree.

Those on the right who oppose the Common Core see it as a set of federally-written mandates that will squash local control of what is taught in schools.

An online petition started by a group called Pennsylvanians Against Common Core has collected more than 1,800 signatures as of Monday afternoon.  The group says it aims to collect more than 10,000.

PACC warns that the Common Core is “the culmination of many years of the expansion of national controls over what should be local educational issues.”

Opposition to the Common Core appears to have been stirred up among conservatives after the Obama Administration began touting the new standards along with the national Race to the Top education program.

Carolyn Dumaresq, deputy secretary of education in PA, said the new standards set different goal lines for public education in the state, but individual school districts will still have to determine how to reach those goals.

We cannot, and we do not, say what that curriculum should be,” she said. “The textbooks and materials that are used, the teaching strategies and the curriculum will all be determined by the school districts.”

Business groups held a news conference event in the state Capitol on Tuesday to voice their support for the new standards, which they say ensure the state’s schools are adequately preparing students.

The Senate Education Committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday to study the Common Core.

Cheryl Boise, director of the Commonwealth Education Organization, a nonpartisan research center based in Pittsburgh, will testify at that hearing.  On Tuesday, she said lawmakers should delay the implementation of the standards until school districts are up to speed with the requirements and the costs are understood.

“I think we have a lot of questions that have not been clearly answered,” Boise said. “We have created, for lack of a better word, a mess here.”

She suggested that Pennsylvania follow Indiana’s recent decision to suspend implementation of Common Core standards.

So far, 45 states have voluntarily signed onto the new standards – only Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have refused – though some have merged those standards with state requirements, as Pennsylvania has done.

Boehm can be reached at and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

via Groups on right and left oppose Common Core standards in PA | PA Independent.

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