Group Launches ‘End Common Core’ Ballot Effort

Group Launches ‘End Common Core’ Ballot Effort

A student works on math problems as part of a trial run of a Common Core linked test on Feb. 12, 2013. Activists and legislators who oppose Common Core are launching a campaign to put it to a vote on the 2016 Massachusetts ballot. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

A student works on math problems as part of a trial run of a Common Core linked test on Feb. 12, 2015. Activists and legislators who oppose Common Core are launching a campaign to put it to a vote on the 2016 Massachusetts ballot. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Activists and legislators who oppose Common Core are launching a campaign to put it to a vote on the 2016 Massachusetts ballot. Their proposed ballot question would drop Common Core as the state’s education standard and return to the standards Massachusetts previously developed and used.

“The purpose of the ballot question is to restore the previous standards we had in the state, the pre-Common Core standards,” said Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who’s supporting the ballot effort.

The move comes as the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education considers whether to switch from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. Both systems are aligned to the Common Core standards.

‘We’re Being Ignored’

Stotsky, also an education professor emerita at the University of Arkansas, said the ballot initiative would “give a voice to parents and teachers, who were basically left out of the decision to adopt Common Core — not only in this state, but in every state.”

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to adopt Common Core in 2010.

Donna Colorio, a former Worcester School Committee member and founder of Common Core Forum, will chair the End Common Core Massachusetts ballot question campaign, the group announced Wednesday.

“Common Core is a top-down educational standard,” Colorio said. “We’re being ignored as parents and teachers.”

Colorio and End Common Core Massachusetts hope to collect enough signatures beginning in September to get the question onto the November 2016 ballot.

According to the group, Rep. Donald Berthiaume (R-Spencer) and Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Webster) support the ballot effort.

Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, says the 2010 decision was part of an open process because it included input from teachers and open board sessions before the vote.

“To move backwards to what existed before 2010 would be a huge disservice to our educators,” Chester said Wednesday. “Our teachers have been at work for five years now, our teachers and administrators, in upgrading their curriculum and aligning their courses of study.”

Is Common Core The Real Issue?

While Colorio believes there will be enough support to get the question onto the ballot, some educators say they’re puzzled by the move.

“Why would anyone want to turn back the clock on something that has been moving ahead and working?” said Linda Noonan, executive director of Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. “I think what this demonstrates is that the Common Core — those two words — have become a proxy for a litany of complaints about education that have absolutely nothing to do with learning standards.”

Since their adoption in 2010, the standards have continually been under intense scrutiny in the Bay State, which has historically had some of the nation’s highest rankings in education.

Common Core standards are a set of benchmarks that dictate what students should know at certain points of their education, but not necessarily how students should learn them.

Proponents say that the standards increase college and career readiness, but critics say the standards end up influencing and changing classroom curriculum in damaging ways.

Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, says the most troubling development related to the Common Core is the associated testing to measure whether students live up to the standards — but that simply altering the standards won’t change that.

“Whether we have the Common Core standards or the previous standards, that doesn’t address the issue of this culture we have that is so centered on testing kids to death, testing overkill,” Guisbond said Wednesday. “I really don’t think just looking at the standards themselves will solve the serious problem that we have that is causing so much damage, narrowing the curriculum, pushing out important subjects, pushing down inappropriate academics on young children and driving good teachers out of teaching.”


  • Wait, I See Something

    While I am inclined to oppose Common Core, I think it’s important not to oppose it simply because it’s different, as I have seen much of the opposition being based on.

    I have family and friends who are teachers, and they’ve told me that Common Core has hampered their ability to effectively teach their students. Similar to programs like George W’s “No Child Left Behind,” teachers are forced to teach all students in their class at the level that the most challenged student can understand, which ends up bringing the entire class down rather than lifting that student up. It also requires that teachers do spend all their time doing things like ask the same question to every student individually before moving on to the next question, etc.

    However, much of the opposition I’ve seen on the Internet is from parents, not teachers, simply because they do not understand the new techniques. I’ve also seen a lot of disingenuous criticism from conservative activists — because Common Core came into being while Obama is President, so obviously it’s all a “liberal plot from Obama and the far left to turn us into socialist Muslims.”

    For example, one aspect of Common Core is a “count up” technique for subtraction. I’ve seen parents frustrated because they don’t understand why kids can’t do it the long way (“it was good enough for me, why not them?”). I’ve also seen viral videos that specifically choose examples where the old way is straightforward while the new way seems confusing (i.e. solving 32-12 rather than, say, 32-17).

    But what’s actually good about the Common Core technique is that it much more closely resembles real world math problems, and even if some of the basic questions could be solved quicker with the old way, the technique learned by doing it the Common Core way will lead to a better understanding in the long run.

    Let’s say you go into a store with a $20 bill, and something costs $14.52. How much change will you get back? Standing a store, chances are you are not going to put 20.00 on top of 14.52 in your mind and do it long way (crossing out the rightmost zero and making it a 9, subtracting 9-2, etc.); chances are you’d do something more like: 52+8 = 60 and 60+40=100, so that’s 48 cents to bring me to $15, then $5 up to $20, so the change is $5.48. That’s basically what the Common Core technique is.

    There are certainly reasons to oppose Common Core, but just because something is different doesn’t make it bad. Being opposed to Common Core because a parent does not understand it without the instruction behind it is like getting rid of derivatives because 3rd graders don’t understand them.

    • downtown21

      “teachers are forced to teach all students in their class at the level that the most challenged student can understand”

      This has nothing to do with Common Core or NCLB. What you’re describing is a symptom of underfunded public school systems that don’t have the resources to give students the attention they need. All the kids just get thrown into one classroom together, and that would keep happening without these initiatives.

      Anyway, I generally agree with you. But I think most of the complaints from teachers are much simpler: nobody likes being told to change the way they do their job. They’ve been teaching a certain way for their whole careers, and now they’re being asked to adopt new methods. Resistance to that happens all the time. Experienced doctors resist new and better surgical techniques that weren’t taught when they were in med school, old school baseball scouts stubbornly reject sabermetrics and cling to a century-old method of evaluating draft prospects, etc.

      • aMAteacher

        “All the kids just get thrown into one classroom together, and that would keep happening without these initiatives.”

        That’s what the law requires. Students with high-needs and learning disabilities need to be kept in the least restrictive environment possible. They should be given access to content through accommodated and modified classwork/testing, receive additional tutoring and SPED support but not kept in a separate classroom away from the general population.

        Does that create more work for teachers and schools? Of course, but it’s what is best for the students. I spend a few extra minutes every day making scaffolded classwork with simplified directions for a student who has issues with executive function and processing multi-step directions. It would be easier for me if I was just stuck in a room with other Special Ed kids, but he wouldn’t learn nearly enough.

        What he’s describing, to be blunt, is a symptom of a teacher and a school not doing it’s job.

        On your third paragraph we 100% agree.

        • downtown21

          I never said anything about segregating any students.

      • Nancy Slator

        This is true. Teachers who are in the classroom working with children every day, finding techniques that work for the students, are being told by politicians to do it a different way. This has predictable results.

        • downtown21

          Uh, no. You basically just said the opposite of what I said.

    • aMAteacher

      “teachers are forced to teach all students in their class at the level that the most challenged student can understand”

      That should absolutely not be the case. The students with the lowest skills and highest needs should be getting access to materials through better scaffolding and, when dictated, accommodations and modifications.

      >It also requires that teachers do spend all their time doing things like ask the same question to every student individually before moving on to the next question

      This has never once happened in my classroom or in any of the dozens I observed this year. Any teacher that is doing this would show a serious lack in planning ability. Any Principal or DCI who allows this would be derelict in their responsibilities. All students should be given an opportunity to think about and process every question, but there are dozens of effective ways and ‘teacher moves’ to make that happen.

      I don’t mean to insult your friends and family who I am 100% certain are good people with good intentions, but those kinds of complaints stem from “I don’t know how to teach this way” not “this is a bad way to teach.” Adapting to CCS isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible.

      • aMAteacher

        Just to be more specific about my first point, the way you describe teaching students with the greatest needs would essentially be in violation of IDEA.

        The goal is to help students with disabilities and low skills gain access to high level content with good planning, questioning and materials. You should never drop the rigor of content to the LCD of a classroom.

      • Wait, I See Something

        Fair points. I only know what I’ve been told by others.

      • Nancy Slator

        Common Core expects kindergarteners to write sentences. For most this is impossible, as all children come to this point at a different time and only a few are ready for sentences at age 5. However, with Common Core, normally developing children can now be labeled by the state as failures in kindergarten. This has lasting negative effects on their learning.

  • Betsy Smith

    I imagine that most readers here don’t also read the Cape Cod Times, but it’s worth checking out the two columns that Larry Brown wrote last month on the extraordinary work his 8th graders did reading the Constitution critically, discussing it critically, and revising it critically. I don’t agree with all of their conclusions about what should be changed to make it a document fitting for the 21st century, but I celebrate the thoughtful and creative process that was involved. Brown teaches in a private school where the curriculum, the books, the tests, and the teacher evaluations are not supplied by Pearson as they are with Common Core. We need our public school children to have time for the same intellectually stimulating kinds of activities that Brown’s students had. When months and months are devoted to test prep and test taking, it just can’t happen. The Common Core is not what we need her in Massachusetts.

    Betsy Smith/Retired Adjunct Professor of ESL/Cape Cod Community College

    • downtown21

      Private schools have the luxury of only admitting students that they believe will respond to the teaching methods the school prefers to use. It doesn’t prove they’re the best methods for the vast majority of students.

      • Betsy Smith

        When Pearson dictates a one-size-fits-all model for teaching with its Common Core curriculum, materials, and tests, students who don’t fit in their neat little box are left out. I am a product of public K-12 education, public and private higher ed, and I have taught in all sectors. My more than 40 years of experience have made it abundantly clear that our children deserve teachers who aren’t hampered by the profit motives of a huge educational monolith and the self-proclaimed experts who support a model to which they would never subject their own children and grandchildren.

        Betsy Smith, Ph.D./Retired Adjunct Professor of ESL/Cape Cod Community College

  • downtown21

    Most people who claim to oppose Common Core really have no idea what it is. All their knowledge is based on images they’ve seen on Facebook of badly written test questions – as if there were never bad teachers writing bad test questions before – and methods of teaching arithmetic that seem overly-complicated on simple equations but which teach techniques that will eventually make complicated equations much easier to solve.

  • bsels

    By all means have standards
    that are aligned with what is required for career and college success, and
    assure these are benchmarked to the best in the world. Make sure standards are
    few in number and can be assessed with instruments that are reliable and likely
    to predict desirable life outcomes. But don’t obsess on the standards and their
    companion assessments. Stability with incremental improvement is the way to go.

    School districts and state education departments can do accountability well so that performance improves, or they can do it badly and do harm. Unfortunately, too many who run our schools and classrooms have taken good accountability principles and applied
    them poorly.

    If teachers are teaching to the test, it’s because they either lack imagination or are getting improper supervision.

    If schools are narrowing the curriculum by eliminating art, music and physical education, they forever harm students’ intellectual growth and development.

    If schools are cramming everything in by having more but shorter class periods each day, they ignore research on how the brain functions and thus ensure less learning will occur.

    Yet the problem goes deeper.Standards and tests to show how well kids meet them are not terribly predictive of subsequent labor market success and life satisfaction unless we’re talking
    about specific tests required to enter particular licensed/credentialed occupations.

    So what is predictive? First, next to social class the quality of the teachers is the highest predictor of academic achievement followed closely by the quality of the principal. Next, to paraphrase political pundit James Carville, “It’s the curriculum, stupid!” So, great teachers working with great curricula that engage kids in an environment conducive to learning created in no small part by great principal is what school should be all about. Standards provide something to aim for but should not detract from the culture of continual learning, mutual caring and creativity.

    To put not too fine a point on it, “One of the best ways to miss standards is
    to pursue them.” Schools should become places of joy that help children
    find and follow their passion while equipping them with enough of the basics to
    understand their country and the world, support a family and become fully
    functioning citizens in a thriving democracy. Schools should help kids become
    really good at something, as well as compassionate curious human beings who can
    collaborate effectively within and across work groups, companies and countries
    both live and virtually and in different languages.

    Effective school change
    starts by changing what we’re aiming for. Rather than aim for good scores on
    standardized tests, we should think of them as by-products of the joyful
    experience of becoming competent in things that matter in the real world.

    In order to meet higher
    standards, schools should begin phasing out their century-old factory design
    where students change subjects, teachers and work groups every 45-90 minutes in
    response to a bell. Alternative designs would feature team teaching,
    cross-disciplinary lessons and projects, a cohort approach that keeps together
    students and a multidisciplinary team of 3-5 teachers for most of the school
    day, blended classroom – online instruction, work-based and community-based
    learning, integrating job readiness, career planning and emotional
    intelligence training with academic subjects, and integrating subjects with one
    another, e.g. math, science and information technology. Write me at if you’d like information on an alternative model that does all of the above.

  • tamarix

    Educators are not opposing Common Core because they’re too lazy to change their curriculum or practices. Common Core is actually less robust and comprehensive than our old Massachusetts Frameworks were. The CC Science and History/Social Studies Standards are essentially a regurgitation of the English Language Arts (ELA) Standards with some content terms thrown in, and are placed as an addendum in the ELA book. Our old MA Frameworks for those two subjects had their own lengthy books. Although ostensibly districts are supposed to be using the CC to supplement the old standards in science and history/social studies, they don’t really match up and districts are revamping entire courses to try to make them fit the CC literacy standards. This is leading to a loss of time for subject area content. In addition, the focus on “informational text” and the addition of social science and science in the ELA standards is cutting out study of literature and it has been well-documented that the standards for the early grades are developmentally inappropriate.

    Common Core supporters claim the standards will make students “college and career ready,” but many of us know the main purpose is to prepare students for one giant national test so we can rate and rank across state lines. Common Core was developed mainly by university academics and assessment “experts” (who work for standardized testing corporations) with an eye to creating a massive high stakes testing machine that can be used to both generate a profit for corporations like Pearson as well as to rate and rank students, teachers, and schools and ultimately begin to convert democratic local public schools to a two-tiered system of cash-starved public schools and private/public schools for profit that siphon funds away from the local systems (think charter schools and vouchers). The Gates Foundation has poured billions of dollars into Common Core. If something like Common Core standards are so good for kids and schools, why do they require so much promotion, and why are so many parents and educators pushing back against them?

    This article has a great summary of the problems with the Common Core.

  • paulunion

    Sandra Stotsky complains that CC was “top down”? It was; but so were the MA math standards. A group of math educators devised standards that were summarily dismissed and rewritten by some of Stotsky’s friends. The math educators all quit in response to the treatment. Top down? Yabetcha.
    In both cases, rather than education for learning and thinking, we got education for bubble sheets.

  • Leduxx

    I think most parents would be shocked to learn how common core
    and the new wave of standardized testing came about in this country – the
    special interest and big money behind both are mind boggling.

    Cronyism. Special interest. Big business. You bet there’s money in them there hills!

    Common core and the new horizon of standardized testing is in my mind a debacle of epic proportions. It will be another failed educational initiative, a terrible bet against the students of this generation, my kids and yours included. I feel for the teachers in the classroom.

    I questions how these standards and tests were developed, who developed them, how much research and expertise were involved and what kind of research sits at its base. Go back to the drawing board and build out acts, initiatives, and standards, and tests that make sense, drive towards excellence in public schools, rely on ACTUAL research about how children learn and don’t
    bet against the future of our kids.