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Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Curriculum sparks uproar

Fort Recovery crowd expresses fear, loathing for state requirements

By William Kincaid
FORT RECOVERY - A contingent of community members opposed to the Common Core Standards - a set of federal educational standards for grades K-12 in language arts and mathematics adopted by most states, including Ohio - addressed their fears and concerns to board of education members Monday night.
The board meeting was moved to the high school commons area to accommodate about 40 attendees, many who were very outspoken, opining that the federal government has encroached on local autonomy and will collect personal data.
Others said the standards are already high at Fort Recovery: Why fix what isn't broken? They talked about too much testing and the possibility of the dilution of standards and expectations.
Board president Dave Hull allowed the public to speak for nearly two hours.
Superintendent Shelly Vaughn told the crowd she respects their concerns but believes the standards, which go into effect next year, are nearly identical to the state standards already in place and would allow teachers to instruct deeper.
"I don't have a problem with the Common Core because it's so closely tied to our current Ohio standards," she said. "There is not a significant difference there."
Her support didn't sit well.
Deb Martin, who spoke of a burgeoning grass-roots effort to stop the invasion of Common Core Standards, said she was shocked when she learned about the standards and worries what the curriculum could bring in the future.
"It is coming from the federal government," she said. "From people that I believe are progressives that have taken over this country. We see it. We see God out of our schools ... Evil is in our country, and I truly believe that. And I believe it's been going on and it's been coming in our schools for a long time. I don't know if people don't see that."
Martin said she is afraid of those people and equated progressivism to Communism.
According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, the standards were created to clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level so teachers are better equipped to establish individualized benchmarks for students. The standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures, the site says.
For example, under the grade 2 mathematics standard, it says instructional time should focus on four critical areas: extending understanding of base-ten notation; building fluency with addition and subtraction; using standard units of measure; and describing and analyzing shapes. Each grade level has a set of standards for teachers to follow.
Board member Ginny Fortkamp said she understands the concerns about the federal government trickling in on Fort Recovery, but she said Ohio is a Race to the Top state and must implement the standards.
"We are a Race to the Top school," she said. "When the state of Ohio became a Race to the Top state, that was the commitment to jump on board with the Common Core. We're in it. We're aligned with it because of the affiliation. We don't have a choice on that."
Attendee Mitch Ervin said the Core standards are a violation of the Constitution and are illegal.
Board members and Vaughn were asked if they looked at both sides of the issue.
Vaughn said she looked at every angle imaginable.
"The state standards we have now and the Common Core Standards are pretty much one in the same," she said. "There's not a significant difference in them at all. It's more a difference in how teachers teach."
The learning will be deeper and richer through further instruction and covering less material at a time.
"I see that as being a very good thing for our kids, teaching them critical thinking, problem solving," she said. "I don't have an issue with the standards."
Some are worried about the curriculum used to teach the standards, Vaughn said.
"There's always been a lot of autonomy in the curriculum that teachers use," she said. "I firmly believe that that autonomy will continue to be there."
Vaughn said she finds it hard to believe the federal or state government would dictate or monitor the kind of curriculum used. Parents and administrators will continue to monitor curriculum, she said.
She asked people to speak with their legislators.
"We seem to be having two sets of facts," attendee Ginny Gehret said. "Somebody's got the facts, and somebody's got the lies ... we want the truth, don't we?"
Vaughn said every school district in Ohio must follow Common Core Standards whether it received Race to the Top grant money or not.
"Sounds to me like the state threw a $100,000 at us that we were more than willing to take ... and now we're stuck," attendee Adrian Grube said. "Does everyone here think it's in the best interest of our kids to do this?"
"I have the best interest of our kids," Vaughn said. "The school board has the best interest of our kids at heart."
"We need someone outside of the teachers' union to take an objective look at this," Ervin said. "We need to lay all the facts out there ... pure facts."
One woman said the group is upset because Vaughn is so supportive of the Core Standards.
"Shelly, I think we're upset because we feel like you're so for it and we're so against it, no matter how many phone calls we make," one woman said.
Vaughn said she's for kids, and school officials care about graduating students. She again asked the crowd to contact their legislators.
"We would like for you to join us because it's not right and you're the leader in our education community," Ervin said.
Board president Dave Hull said he distrusts Washington and Obama and is concerned about the Core Standards. This morning he told the newspaper there are positive aspects of the standards but he fears an intrusion of the federal government.
Board member Amy Bihn said she understands the concerns but supports the standards.
"As of right now, I am not concerned with what I'm seeing. I wish I could assure you that if something came down and made me feel uncomfortable, yes I would be on (it)," she said.
Martin said she believes school administrators when they say they care about kids.
"But I honestly think that you've been lied to," Martin said. "I do, I think you've been lied to. So I don't blame you guys because you've only heard what your upper people have told you, and I don't think you guys ever will see it. I don't think you can because ... it's almost like you guys have been indoctrinated, just like our kids are going to be indoctrinated."
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