Common Core opponents in Massachusetts vow ballot vote as bills are sent to study


BOSTON >> As lawmakers this week dumped into a study order a bill repealing Common Core education standards in Massachusetts, backers of the initiative say they're organized and ready to get their issue on the November ballot.

"We're going to move forward. We're planning on getting our remaining 11,000 signatures. We will be doing a lot of education. We will be working in the communities to educate different people in the communities," said Donna Colorio, a Worcester School Committee member and chair of the campaign.

Seeking to gain support for the petition (H 3929), advocates and parents visited the State House Wednesday asking lawmakers to pledge their support to end Common Core. The petition, the subject of a March 7 hearing, would roll back the 2010 incorporation of the Common Core standards into the state's curriculum frameworks and revert Massachusetts to its previous standards.

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester testified at the hearing against the ballot question and argued that removing Common Core would come at a high financial cost.

Colorio acknowledged the question, unlike marijuana legalization and raising the charter schools cap, which are well funded and also poised to go before voters, may not get as much attention, but remained confident about their efforts to get the attention of voters.

"We have the grassroots efforts. We have the passion among the teachers and the parents and the students. We have that for us. So it may not get the attention maybe monetarily, I'm not sure, but we sure as heck have the support and the ears of the people out there because people are frustrated right now. People are out of their mind with what's happening with education in Massachusetts," she said.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Education this week voted to place into a study order, usually a dead end for bills, legislation (H 492) sponsored by Warren Republican Rep. Todd Smola to nullify the state Board of Education's 2010 vote to adopt Common Core standards.

Rep. Brian Mannal's bill (H 3396) to examine the effectiveness of Common Core Standards in public schools was also sent to study, along with a bill (H 370) sponsored by Reps. Paul Frost of Auburn and Keiko Orrall of Lakeville allowing school districts to opt out of Common Core standards.

Petition backers, who claim Common Core represents a federal intrusion by test and curriculum developers and others into state assessments, will need to obtain 10,792 signatures by early July and have them certified before the question can be put to voters.

Fifty-two percent of likely voters support the ballot question, 22 percent oppose it and 25 percent are unsure, the campaign reported last week, citing a WBZ-University of Massachusetts poll of 891 likely voters from Feb. 19-29. The poll had a 4.1 percent margin of error.

Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said repealing the standards would "turn back the clock" and retreat on work that's been done over the past five years. Noonan said Common Core features valuable standards that are designed to ensure that students are ready for college and careers.

"We feel it's unnecessary because the state has a process for reviewing standards that has been regularly done since the education reform law was enacted in 1993," Noonan said of the ballot question.

A taxpayer lawsuit filed in January challenged the initiative petition's eligibility under the constitution and aims to disqualify the question. The suit is pending before the Supreme Judicial Court. "It's proceeding along its course," Noonan said.

The 2010 frameworks incorporated teachers' suggestions for building on prior frameworks and responded to employer and higher education feedback that high school graduates were lacking in math and literacy skills, Chester told lawmakers this month.

Common Core opponents say the pre-2010 standards were academically superior and criticize the backing of Common Core by wealthy groups, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a statement accompanying the poll results, Colorio said, "The wealthy special interests behind Common Core are going to continue the frivolous lawsuits, misrepresentations of the ballot measure, and using money the buy their influence at the state and local level. We will continue to expose them at every turn."

Last week, on the same day that lawmakers were hearing the Common Core petition, state education officials launched a feedback initiative to allow the public to suggest changes to the state's curriculum frameworks. The input on math and English standards, gathered through an online portal that will be live until March 25, will help direct working groups that are reviewing curriculum frameworks, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in November voted to pursue a "next generation" MCAS exam that draws from the existing MCAS and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam.

State education officials on Wednesday posted a request for responses for a vendor to help them build the new assessment system and administer an "enhanced MCAS" from 2017 through 2021. State officials are planning to move toward computer-based testing, phasing in that model over two years to meet the goal of statewide computer-based testing by 2019.

The Legislature's Education Committee has not made a recommendation on the Common Core initiative petition.


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