Common Core critics view standards as U.S. intrusion

Critics concerned standards could be unfunded mandate

By Gloria Lloyd

Teachers and administrators in local school districts have been working on bringing new educational standards to their classrooms for the past few years — but they never thought the Common Core State Standards would become nationwide news.

Critics of Common Core see the new standards as a massive federal intrusion on education, reminiscent of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The controversy over federal control of local education has spread to several states, including Missouri, where legislators tried to halt or slow the standards’ pending 2014 adoption.

Several Missouri groups, including Miss-ouri Education Watchdog and Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, have conducted meetings and rallied supporters against the standards.

Locally, the Lindbergh Schools Board of Education recently adopted a resolution in support of the standards. The standards were written by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which was funded by private foundations.

The United States has never had nationwide standards like other countries, but Common Core is as close as the country has come, with adoption by 45 states in exchange for the chance to receive Race to the Top stimulus funding.

Last month at a meeting sponsored by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, attendees asked if children will be used as subjects in Big Brother-style science experiments. Both Mehlville School District Superintendent Eric Knost and Lindbergh Schools superintendent Jim Simpson dispute that this will be an issue with the new standards.

“None of those, what seem like bizarre things, are in (the standards),” Knost said.

The concern seems to stem from a February draft report issued by the U.S. Department of Education, which discussed potential ways of studying student engagement with learning material in the future, with pictures of “facial expression cameras” and biofeedback devices to measure student attention.

The same paper notes that these new technologies carry fundamental privacy concerns, and these devices are not part of the Common Core Standards that the State Board of Education adopted in 2010.

“As an educator, I know that’s not going to happen,” Simpson said. “Common Core begins in 2014, and if anyone seriously believes they’re going to walk in here next year and see 12,000 students hooked up to any machine to measure anything with electrodes — they’re buying into a fantasy or just scare tactics.”

Critics believe that, with a national system of standards encouraged by the Department of Education, these other Department of Education-oriented ideas could be put into place more easily, however.

Parents are also concerned about potential data mining coming from the new standards — critics contend the Department of Education plans to collect more than 400 points of data on students and share them with private companies. Eight states, including Illinois, have signed up to participate in a new database that shares existing student information with private educational companies that write assessments or instructional tools. Missouri is not a participant in that database, InBloom.

Locally, however, Mehlville is not going to collect any more data on students under Common Core than it currently does, Knost said.

“When people say, ‘Are you going to take pictures of my kids while they’re taking tests?’ I say, ‘You’re going to have to show me where (the standards) say that,’” he said. “We’re not going to be taking pictures of kids and finding political affiliations of families. That is not in the paperwork and information provided to me as a superintendent.”

State Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, introduced Senate Bill 210, which was not approved by the Legislature. The measure would have required DESE to report what data points it will collect and who receives that information. The bill also would have required DESE to complete a cost analysis of Common Core.

Cost estimates of how much money it will take to adopt the Common Core Standards range greatly, with critics fearing the entire system of standards could be a massive, unfunded state mandate.

The assessments, written by private companies or nonprofits, cost money, as do the computers and Internet bandwidth required for all students to simultaneously take the online assessments.

Key components of potential costs will be the assessments, professional development for teachers, textbooks and curriculum materials for students and technology to take the tests and learn the standards.

Last month at a Mehlville Board of Education meeting, Knost assured Board of Education Vice President Lori Trakas that Mehlville would have no additional costs due to Common Core. Mehlville has a five-year technology plan in place and has the bandwidth and computers necessary for all Common Core testing.

Lindbergh Schools will also not incur any additional costs due to Common Core, Simpson said, although he recognizes that may not be the case for smaller, rural school districts without as much access to technology.

Outstate school districts needing technology upgrades could add to DESE’s budget at a time when the state already underfunds the foundation formula for schools.

The Fordham Institute issued a report stating Common Core could cost Missourians $26 million to $192 million, depending on how districts take advantage of already-existing, open-source materials and technology. The $192 million figure is if schools use paper assessments for Common Core and paper textbooks.

The Pioneer Institute estimated professional development costs for Missouri to be $175 million, textbook costs at $55 million and technology at $175 million — the Fordham Institute study authors, however, did not see professional development and technology as additional costs to taxpayers, since school districts fund those annually anyway.