August 20, 2013

Maine opponents seek to expel Common Core educational standards

Two groups say the new benchmarks strip control from local school boards.

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA — Two Maine groups that oppose new educational benchmarks for reading, writing and math are working toward a statewide vote to repeal them, a step that is believed to be the first in the country.

Maine adopted the Common Core Standards in 2011, along with 44 other states, with the aim of better preparing students for colleges and careers and allowing them to be compared with students in other states. The majority of Maine teachers will begin using the standards in their classrooms this fall.

Opponents say the standards strip control from local school boards and will lead to a federal takeover of public schools.

The Maine Equal Rights Center and No Common Core Maine plan to submit a ballot proposal to the state to repeal the standards, a route no other group has taken, said Heidi Sampson, co-founder of No Common Core Maine and a member of Maine's Board of Education.

"The people of Maine will be able to have their voices heard," she said. "If this is not repealed, the parents of Maine will have no more voice when it comes to the education of their children. When Washington, D.C., pulls the strings on education, there is no more local control."

Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to replace educational goals that varied greatly from state to state. The federal government didn't create the standards but heavily promoted them and encouraged their adoption by tying them to some funding.

Supporters say the new standards merely outline expectations for when students should reach certain benchmarks. The way schools apply those expectations to their curriculums varies by district, said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

"There really is a tremendous amount of variation," he said. "Districts take the standards and they figure out how they want to implement them locally with the kids they have."

Anti-Common Core legislation, backed primarily by conservatives, has been introduced in several states, including Alabama and Missouri. In Michigan, Republicans recently blocked state funding for the implementation and are holding public hearings on them to learn more about the cost and other implications.

Erick Bennett, director of the Maine Equal Rights Center, said opponents hope to get the Common Core repeal on the November 2014 ballot. They will have to collect more than 57,000 signatures by February, and Bennett said he is confident they could get as many as 100,000.

If it comes to a vote, he said, Common Core opponents will win "in a landslide."

"It doesn't matter what your ideology is," he said. "(Common Core) totally eliminates your involvement in how the money is spent and how your kids learn."

But Maine education officials say the new standards are the best path forward for Maine teachers and students.

The uniform standards will benefit Maine teachers by allowing them to collaborate and share best practices with educators across the country, said Rachelle Tome, the state's chief academic officer.

Bowen said students' performance in Maine schools demonstrates a need for more rigorous standards. About 53 percent of the students who enter Maine's community colleges need remedial work in math or language arts, he said.

"That suggests that this set of standards we have now is not what it needs to be," he said, "because we are not graduating these kids ready for colleges and careers."

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