Common Core debated in Carson City

The debate on Common Core, the controversial K-12 standards adopted — and then reconsidered by states across the country — played out like Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” on Tuesday at the Nevada Legislative Building. Common Core or not Common Core? Improve Common Core? Repeal Common Core and replace it with something else?

Those were the questions addressed in front of a packed room during a forum presented by the Citizens for Sound Academic Standards and sponsored by Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill.

State Sen. Scott Hammond asked if Common Core could be repealed and if other standards could be put in its place. Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita of English at the University of Arkansas, who participated on the panel to talk about Common Core’s flaws, said Common Core could be replaced by standards adopted in Massachusetts on an interim basis and the standards would be cheaper and easier to implement than Common Core.

That seemed to differ somewhat from what Nevada Deputy Superintendent Steve Canavero said, who was on the panel to explain the state’s role in adopting Common Core.

“Our challenge is not to debate the merits of our actions taken four years ago,” Canavero said. “The challenge is the implementation of our standards.”

Stotsky also said states shouldn’t worry about losing federal money if they choose to replace Common Core, citing federal money such as the Race to the Top grants that were part of Common Core were no longer offered.

Stotsky also stated regardless of what actions states take, parents do have the right to opt their students out of Common Core standards, although it’s up to local school boards to set policies on how to deal with such situations.

Also debated was just how high Common Core standards were. Aaron Grossman, curriculum specialist with Washoe County schools, did say Common Core stressed content and not chasing high test scores as emphasized by No Child Left Behind.

“You can add higher math standards to the standards as a state,” said Canavero, commenting on the flexibility of Common Core.

But James Milgram, professor emeritus of math at Stanford University, who was on the panel with Stotsky as a Common Core critic, stated about Nevada’s Common Core math standards, “They weren’t quite the worst in the country, but they were close.”

Stotsky also said Nevada’s Common Core English standards were “not among the best.”

Milgram said one of the writers of the Common Core standards was also one of the same writers of the 1992 California standards, which led California to fall to 49th in the nation, leading educators in the state to say, “thank God for Mississippi.”

Milgram said the Common Core math standards are the equivalent of those 1992 standards. Students learning math under the 1992 standards for four years couldn’t recover, thus could never meet adequate math levels, Milgram said.

He also said under those standards, only a third of students could graduate from college and only two percent could earn a math, science, engineering or technology degree.

Stotsky said the Fordham Institute received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to grade Common Core’s standards, thus inflating how high the standards are.

Also debated was the lack of transparency when it came to Common Core. Stotsky said “there was not a state or local” presence when developing Common Core. While Canavero and Grossman said they couldn’t speak for other states, Canavero said there were plenty of chances for public input on Common Core as it when through the process of being adopted in Nevada.

Grossman said two major parts of Common Core in the state is for it to be “unfiltered” and to encourage community involvement.

One point of order that caused controversy in the meeting was the eventual decision not to allow teachers to talk about their experience with Common Core. Stotsky and Milgram said that wasn’t appropriate for the forum, with Stotsky saying the Department of Education could hold its own forum.

But Canavero disagreed.

“This is the only time I’ve had teachers silenced,” he said. “I find that appalling, personally.”


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