Michelle Maitino volunteers at her daughters’ school. She checks their homework, volunteers in in the library, and keeps in touch with their teachers. But until recently, she didn’t know that a new, national set of standards called the Common Core was coming to her daughters’ Catholic school.
“It’s a whole new curriculum but no one even knows about it,” Maitino said, who found out for sure only after she set up a personal meeting with the school’s principal.
Maitino, who lives in Lorain County, searched the Internet. She chatted with other mothers in an online parenting group. And the more she learned about the Common Core, the less she liked it.
“I don’t think the federal government should be regulating our education. I think we should be regulating our own education in our own state,” she said.
Maitino is one of a growing number of Ohio parents, grandparents, and other residents who are opposed to the Common Core, a set of expectations for what students should know and be able to do in math and English at each grade level. The Common Core is supposed to set higher standards for students across the nation and help ensure students are better prepared for jobs or college once they graduate high school.
Ohio is one of 45 states that have fully adopted the Common Core, which was developed by teachers, math and language experts and others in an effort organized by state school chiefs and governors. The new standards come with a new set of standardized tests that are to be given entirely online.
The Ohio State Board of Education approved the new standards in June 2010 and they are already being implemented in some schools. But many parents are just catching up with the news and uneasy about the changes.
Various groups have planned at least half a dozen panel discussions on the Common Core across Ohio in the coming weeks.
The Ohio School Boards Leadership Council, a conservative school leadership group, is sponsoring an informational panel discussion Saturday in Lewis Center, north of Columbus. About 240 people have registered so far, said leadership council communications director Jon Lewallen.
“We’ve got people driving hours to attend,” Lewallen said. “That tells me at least that this is something that’s on a lot of people’s minds.”
A Question of Local Control
For many Ohioans who don’t like the Common Core, it’s a question of local control.
They’re worried that local schools won’t have leeway in what they teach students. They’re worried they’ll have little recourse if they don’t like what schools teach. And some feel like they never really had a say in the process.
Some of the opponents have children or grandchildren in public schools. Others have children in private schools or are homeschoolers. Only public schools must teach to the Common Core, but some private schools plan to do so too. And some homeschooling parents think the new standards could end up affecting their children too.
Jen Gorton, who homeschools her children, is helping organize a public forum on the Common Core at her family’s church in Geauga County later this spring.
“They could be the best national standards ever but the problem for us is that it took it away from the state and local control,” she said. “If the people in the state didn’t choose it, we feel that that is wrong.”
–Geauga County parent Jen Gorton
Compared with other educational reforms such as Ohio’s new school report card system or the expansion of private-school vouchers, the adoption of the Common Core saw relatively little debate in the state legislature.
The head of the Ohio Department of Education, Richard Ross, said this week that Ohio is not budging on the Common Core. Ross said even under the Common Core, local school districts will still get to decide the details of how and what they teach students.
“I think as long as we maintain that local control [over] how we’re going to achieve the standards and goals and the local districts get to decide the implementation policies about their curriculum, then I think we’re going to be alright,” he said.
But, Ross said, public schools still must give students the new standardized tests. And those tests are based on the Common Core.
Wait, There’s More
Ohioans’ concerns about the Common Core don’t stop with local control.
Some are concerned that the Common Core standards are less rigorous than Ohio’s previous state standards. (The Fordham Institute, which is a supporter of the Common Core, says that may be true for other states, but not for Ohio.)
The new standards emphasize reading non-fiction texts more than the current standards do. They call for a new way of teaching math. They’re tied to a push to collect more information about students for research and other purposes. And adopting the Common Core means schools will need to spend money training teachers, buying new textbooks and buying computers for students to take the new, online tests.
Those changes don’t sit well with some Ohioans, to say the least.
State Board of Education Member Sarah Fowler said she’s heard from people in nearly every county in her district who are concerned about the Common Core.
“One lady handed me a list of her top 12 items of things she disliked,” Fowler said.
Many Ohio schools are already teaching the Common Core. By next school year, the Ohio Department of Education expects all schools to be teaching it. Students start taking the new Common Core tests in 2014-15. [See the Ohio Common Core Timeline.]
Some school districts have held community meetings or launched parent education efforts to explain what the Common Core means for local students and schools.
For many, the message hasn’t been received.
“The response I’ve gotten from my constituents is that ‘We haven’t heard about this before; the wool is being pulled over our eyes,’” Fowler said.
Bills to slow or reject implementation of the Common Core are active in state legislatures in several states – including Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Kansas. Bills in other states – including South Dakota, Alabama and Georgia — have been introduced, but failed to pass.
Anti-Common Core activists from other states have helped Ohioans launch an Ohioans Against the Common Core website and Facebook page. Heather Crossin, a former Congressional aide who is one of the leaders of an anti-Common Core group in Indiana, will be appearing at several Ohio anti-Common Core panels. And outside conservative or free-market groups, including the American Principles Project, the Pioneer Project and the Heartland Institute, are contributing their expertise too.
Everyone who has concerns about the Common Core is not necessarily opposed to it.
Jon Lewallen, from the Ohio School Board Leadership Council, said he doesn’t know if he’s in favor of the Common Core.
“Part of the problem is that we don’t know what we’re even committed to,” he said. “There’s just a lot of unknowns and it seems like the more people do know, the better off we are.”
StateImpact Ohio reporter Ida Lieszkovszky contributed to this story.