Misinformation, clarification heard at Common Core workshop

  • Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dorchester District Two Board of Trustees held a workshop Tuesday with the objective of learning the pros and cons of Common Core Standards.
It turned into more of a forum but the board heard from both sides of the issue.
There were representatives from several national and state organizations who presented various perspectives – both pro and con – on this initiative. 
The Board had hoped parents and community members would attend to learn more about the Common Core Standards, ask questions and share concerns.
Dr. Sean Alford, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, deftly led the workshop as moderator.
Approximately 300 filled the Summerville High School auditorium, a large majority wearing “No Common Core” buttons and apparently members of a Tri-County organization – Greater Charleston Parents Involved in Education – that is against Common Core.
The board heard three district interventionists representing elementary, middle and high school levels, compare former South Carolina standards with the new Common Core Standard. In both math and reading the Common Core standard was higher than the previous state standard.
The board then welcomed Whitney Neal, director of Grassroots, a FreedomWorks initiative. FreedomWorks is a conservative non-profit organization based in Washington D.C., best known for its success in launching the Tea Party.
Neal delivered myriad cons choosing “facts” that supported her position including assertions that states didn't get to see the standards prior to accepting them; an almost conspiracy theory that the standards were all created by businesses that would make money from Common Core including the Gates Foundation and Pearson Publishing; that no one wants our students to be competitive with China, Korea and other nations; and that the standard eliminates local control over the curriculum. She suggested that Common Core was simply Washington bureaucrats and profit-making business leaders taking over the nation's children.
Debunking most of Neal's assertions, Dr. Barbara Nielsen, former South Carolina State Superintendent of Education, Nielsen gently pointed out that a great deal of the reaction to Common Core was based on a lack of understanding of terminology.
She further noted that South Carolina has been a “smorgasbord” of standards, “a patchwork….”
She noted that there is a lot of mobility of students which creates a very real need to a common standard so the student can go from one school district to another without losing out.
“For example,” she said, “In South Carolina we might teach three-digit division in the third grade but a student moves to a district where it was taught in the second grade…that student is already behind.”
“These are the conversations we had in 2007… the workforce is changing and demanding more…this is why we need a core standard that ensures that all our students, nationally, can be competitive.”
“We have to raise the bar for the 21st century…so many of our South Carolina students arrive at college and have to take remedial courses,” she noted.
The final invited speaker was Kevin Baird, chairman, Center for College and Career Readiness. Baird spoke more about the need for schools “to do something” to raise the standards and ensure students were ready for college and career and less about Common Core specifically. Enthusiastic and adamant, he often noted that Neal “was absolutely right” in part of what she said and he would then take it a step further explaining that in context and complete the information actually meant something different.
The board opened the floor to a “rebuttal” from opponents.
While Neal was professional in her rebuttal, however, Sheri Few, the spokesperson for South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, attacked both Baird and Nielsen.
She accused Baird of having his plane ticket paid for by DD2 and of taking money from the feds. She told the gathering that Nielsen worked for Pearson Publishing.
Nielsen said the charge was distasteful. She told the board she worked for the Pearson Foundation, not Pearson Publishing, twice a month helping underprivileged get free books and materials to aid with learning. 
Baird responded with humor, noting that he was personally very comfortable thanks to a technology business he used to have and that he had paid for his own plane ticket. He corrected Ensor, saying his non-profit received grant money but no federal funds.
The board opened the meeting to the floor for questions. Almost all the questions were from folks wearing the “No Common Core” buttons and were strident in nature.
One woman asked about “data mining” and said that with Common Core small children would be under surveillance with facial expressions and body language being filmed and that students were required to wear biometric bracelets to judge their reactions to what they were learning and teacher effectiveness. She did not want her grandchildren terrified to go to school because they would be monitored like that.
(Clemson University obtained a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct a pilot study with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets, wireless sensors that track physiological reactions, in schools. The idea supposedly was that children would wear these biometric bracelets in classrooms to measure their engagement and evaluate teachers' effectiveness.)
Common Core, said Baird, has nothing to do with collecting data.
Others suggested that Common Core was simply special interest taking over education and determining what our children would be taught.
It was explained that Common Core is simply a standard (and a higher standard than South Carolina has had) and that the curriculum and how children met that standard was under the local control of the school district.
Alford ended the meeting firmly and invited the audience to come down to the front and ask questions one on one of the presenters.
Alford said the conversations that ensued once the meeting was over we mostly very civil but the district was surprised to discover that the majority of the audience didn't even live in the DD2 district.

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