Letter to the Editor:

Last week, three of us Chester County residents traveled to Harrisburg to attend a Pennsylvania Board of Education meeting. Our purpose in going was to learn firsthand what Pennsylvania is doing about the Common Core mandate from Washington D.C. We also wanted to comment on the reasons we did not think Common Core, with its lowered education standards, and massive longitudinal data collection program of student behaviors in grades 1-12, was appropriate for our children in the Avon Grove School District. The untested Common Core program has raised several questions among parents and others. Why is a wholesale, nationwide, change in educational focus necessary?  How does changing teacher and curriculum focus, from individual students learning in the classroom to ensuring student compliance with computerized educational standards, improve learning processes in our primary and secondary schools? Why change from the successful educational models already in place in the Avon Grove School District, as well those already in many other Pennsylvania school districts?  Why are our children being subjected to untested, unproven educational systems? Lastly, why is private behavioral information about our children in grades 1 through 12, being entered into a publicly accessible Common Core data bank?

We were not alone at this meeting. Approximately 40 other members of the public attended this meeting, both to comment and to learn.

All meeting visitors were provided with the text of HR No. 338, as amended June 18, 2013, from the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, which was introduced by 20 state representatives, including Rep. John Lawrence. This resolution urges the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education “to reject completely and unilaterally any attempts to subject Pennsylvania students to a national standardized assessment.” 

Further, the resolution urges the Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education “to consult with Pennsylvania parents, students, teachers, school administrators, and school board members, representatives of institutions of higher education and business and community leaders before adopting any new academic standards.” The resolution recognizes, and seeks to continue, “Pennsylvania’s proud tradition of local control.”  The resolution also urges that Pennsylvania standards do not result in intrusion into student and family privacy or in the collection or reporting of additional data to the federal government.”

We learned, from the discussions between, Mr. Wittig, the Board's Chairman and State Senator Andrew Dinniman. a board member, that a tentative agreement between legislative Democrats and Republicans not to implement the Federal Common Core program had been reached at one time. The Board of Education appears to have failed to adopt the agreement. Mr. Witting then cited the unfortunate naming of the Pennsylvania effort to circumvent Common Core, e.g. Pennsylvania Common Core, caused more confusion than was intended. Efforts are now being made by the board, the legislature, the governor, and school boards across Pennsylvania to find a way out of adopting the "one size fits all" and privacy-invading provisions of this muddled initiative that no responsible person in Pennsylvania wants.

The public comments were interesting, both for their breadth, and their consistency. All comments made were uniformly in opposition to Common Core as being the federal government meddling where it had no business doing so. All comments also indicated profound commitments to American ideals as expressed in the Constitution and our Rule of Law traditions. Comments, about American realities, e.g. our freedoms to think and to capitalize on life opportunities, were applauded by all the meeting’s visitors. Numerous comments were made about Common Core’s emphasis on “one size fits all” as it seeks to enforce common standards, both for inner city schools and for suburban school systems already performing well above such standards.  Comments also dealt with the secretive manner in which Common Core had been introduced by the Federal Education Department. For example, substantial "Race to the Top" monies were given to states by the U. S. Department of Education as each state governor signed off on accepting Common Core implementation for his state. Former Governor Ed Rendell signed such paperwork before he left office, and Pennsylvania received millions of education dollars for his signature. The question as to whether that fact obligates Pennsylvania to implement Common Core was raised in one public comment.

The happiest thing we learned last Wednesday was that Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg appear to be working together in rejecting the implementation of the federal government's Common Core program features for Pennsylvania school students.  Instead, they hope to continue working incrementally on Pennsylvania standards. This incremental approach will in this writer’s judgment yield more suitable improvements in Pennsylvania schools than the muddled federal approach could ever possibly achieve.

 

Bob Wickes

Republican Candidate for the Avon Grove School Board