Former teacher speaks out against Common Core

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Former teacher Diana Holcomb, of Norway, not only wants to get rid of Common Core but the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that decisions regarding education are made locally.

She’s one of the speakers at a forum sponsored by Mainers Against Common Core (MACC), which will be held on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton.

MACC fears the federal standards—which are used in most states in the country—are not good for Maine schoolchildren and teachers and they’re speaking up about it.

“It’s a lot of energy over very little matter,” Rick Colpitts, School District Administration 17 superintendent, said of the opposition to Common Core.

Neither he nor any other school department official will be at the MACC meeting, but Colpitts said that the adoption of the standards will put more pressure on students to perform at a higher level and teachers to teach at a higher level.

The National Common Core Public School Standards were developed through a process that involved governors and state education officials from 48 states. The standards were designed to prepare students in grade kindergarten through 12th grade for college or the workforce.

Forty-three states voluntarily adopted the standards, though opposition groups are beginning to form around the country.

“I’ve always been interested [in the issue],” said Holcomb, a retired teacher who taught in Connecticut schools for 31 years. She recently wrote a letter on the issue to a newspaper that was spotted by Donna Dodge, a member of MACC, who invited her to speak at the forum.

Holcomb said her initial feeling was that she didn’t like the way Common Core was set up.

“Schools were baited into signing up. We’ll give you money to get started but the government didn’t say what was involved,” she said. “I’m just a person expressing their concerns about an issue that’s important to me.”

Holcomb had been retired for nine years before Common Core was implemented. While Holcomb hasn’t spoken to many parents on the issue, she feels strongly that parents need to be involved.

“Parents should be aware of what’s going on in school, what students are being taught,” she said. “The more parents are informed the more they’ll get involved.”

Holcomb fears the federal government is taking control away from the state regarding what’s being taught and what’s being measured in schools. She worries that eventually school boards will be out of the picture.

Contrary to her fears, the Maine Department of Education clearly states on its website that local decision-making still controls how schools meet the standards set by Common Core.

“The updated standards, adopted after a public process in 2011 and fully implemented in the 2013-14 school year, emphasize more complex content and concepts and the development of needed real-world skills like problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking and communication—imperative for Maine students to succeed and our state to thrive,” the website states. “The strengthened standards set a high bar for all Maine students, no matter their school. How Maine educators go about helping students meet and exceed those standards—including curriculum, required reading or school operations—remains entirely a local decision.”

Colpitts said that he’s sympathetic with some of the arguments against Common Core.

“I don’t disagree with some people who feel this is an intrusion,” he said. “The federal government is essentially using the money it hands out to support education as a carrot. … The increasing growth and pressure of federal government rubs me the wrong way … but there is still local control.”

However, he remains adamant that Common Core will benefit students.

“The Common Core standards raise the bar significantly, particularly in science and mathematics,” he said. “It will be a difficult assessment for our kids and for many students in Maine that’s going to be a challenge. I think the standards will be high and will be challenging for the students to achieve and that’s not a bad thing. … How we achieve those standards is totally up to us. No one is telling us how to teach science, how to teach math, that’s totally up to us.”

Colpitts made clear that the state has had educational standards, called the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA), in place for years so having standards to achieve is nothing new.

“It’s always interesting back when we were giving MEA assessments, Maine was still scoring above average,” he said. “There was criticism of some states setting minimum standards.”

Colpitts said that it was difficult to compare achievement because of the different standards in each states.

“Having standards that are shared across multiple states is good to see how we’re achieving,” he said of being able to compare results of student performance with other states. The adoption of Common Core is the “first time that we’ve had similar standards,” he added.

“The state assessment is smarter balance anyway,” he said. “If we don’t use the Common Core standards, our kids will still be tested and may fall behind.”

The Maine Department of Education has an in depth website with information about the Common Core for parents can be found at www.maine.gov/doe/commoncore/.

smoore@advertiserdemocrat.com