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Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Sides split over state repeal efforts

By Amy Kronenberger
Legislation to repeal Common Core State Standards is pending in Ohio congressional committees.
Three House bills relating to Common Core are circulating in committees at the state level: HB 181 would strengthen student information privacy laws; HB 193 would allow students to qualify for high school graduation by achieving nontraditional goals such as assessments for a technical career or specific ACT/SAT scores; and HB 237 would effectively repeal Common Core, returning schools to previous standards.
Each of the bills could undergo many revisions with additions and cuts before the debate process is over.
The repeal bill was introduced Aug. 2 by Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, over concerns the standards could be a federal takeover of education and not age appropriate for students.
The bill is under scrutiny in the House Education Committee. A public hearing was held Nov. 20 and hundreds of people spoke out and submitted letters in favor and against Common Core. Participants included parents, teachers, administrators, students, volunteers and business owners.
In the Grand Lake area, teachers and administrators are winding down the four-year implementation process and will begin using the new standards during the 2014-2015 school year. Local officials object to the pending repeal measures, saying it would waste years of hard work and money, place schools in the middle of a political issue and leave them to pick up the pieces.
"This is the hand we have currently been dealt, and it's unfortunate that all of our time, money and energy that was placed in this transition could be undone," said Marion Local Schools Superintendent Mike Pohlman, adding the debates should have been completed before Ohio approved the standards.
Celina City Schools Superintendent Jesse Steiner agreed. Pulling Common Core now would cause problems, he said.
"When you look at all the time and money spent ... if we were to suddenly pull out, oh my gosh," he said. "Common Core is tied to so much - third grade reading guarantees, teacher evaluations, student learning objectives, etc. There's so much that if the standards were to just go away ... there would be scrambling. Chaos would ensue."
Steiner noted the new standards took years to implement and would take years to undo.
"It can't be undone overnight," he said.
Those who provided testimony in favor of Common Core during the Nov. 20 state committee hearing said the new standards would ensure the same level of education for children who move from state to state. They also said the standards are more challenging for students and provide better critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the subject.
Lisa Priemer, a parent and former teacher from Bay Village, testified that she volunteers at her children's schools every day and has seen the difference Common Core makes.
She told the House Educational Committee that she heard middle school students talking about math problems at lunch and discussing how they solved them. Kids in her son's eighth-grade English classes read a variety of classic works while incorporating nonfiction work, she said.
"So even using this set of Common Core standards, this teacher was in fact able to incorporate the classics, use a variety of literature, create lessons based on the specific needs of a group of students and give the students the really great experience of meeting an actual author and working with her for an afternoon," she said.
Priemer said the biggest complaint she's heard about Common Core is teachers are forced to teach to the test.
"I absolutely agree with this," she said. "As a teacher we are always teaching for the test. We want our children to master the information. The difference now is that the way students are tested has changed."
She said when she was in high school her tests consisted of matching, multiple choice and short answer sections. Students were then given test-taking techniques - such as process of elimination and searching for clues - to help achieve a better grade.
Priemer said her daughter's tests are very different. She said a recent history test consisted of one question: "How was World War II a continuation or sequel to World War I?" Students had to write a three-paragraph thesis using information they learned in lectures, reading and notes to support their ideas with facts, she said.
"If we are going to test students, we will always teach to the test," she said. "I would rather my daughter be taught to summarize, infer and support her ideas, skills that she will use later in life, rather than eliminate choices and make your best guess."
Worthington mom Lee Hunter also testified before the education committee but in opposition to Common Core. She said she made the difficult decision of pulling her seventh-grade son out of public school when the gifted math student began struggling to pass the class. The boy didn't like the new computer program his school used and couldn't grasp the new style of learning, she said.
After enrolling her son in a math homeschool program, she retaught him using the style in which he first learned. Hunter said her son enjoys math again and solves the problems much faster.
"It's sad that I had to pull my son out of public school math in order for him to get the education he needed, in order to achieve his dream of becoming an engineer in our Army or Navy," she said.
Those speaking out against Common Core said the standards are a federal takeover of education that steals individual rights. They also believe the new teaching practices are time consuming and make the subject more confusing.
Worthington mom Khadine Ritter testified that her 7- and 8-year-old children have struggled with Common Core math. Her daughter's homework included a simple math problem - three plus four. The youngster knew the answer was seven but both mother and daughter were frustrated to learn she had to write whether her conclusion was a "reasonable answer."
"Rather than memorizing her math facts, she was asked to decode a convoluted multi-step cipher worthy of a Mission Impossible episode," Ritter said. "Can someone explain to me how that is an easier way to learn mathematics? Why is this better than simply mastering math facts - the method that worked for decades and put a man on the moon?"
Ritter called on Ohio legislators to be brave and fight Common Core. She encouraged them to listen to the people of their districts and do the right thing.
State Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, said in a press release that he appreciates the input from those in his 84th District who spoke out and encouraged residents to continue speaking their mind.
"Education is very important in the 84th district and it shows," he said.
"We should always be looking for ways to improve the educational opportunities for our young people, and I know that the school administrators across the 84th district agree and are constantly working toward that goal."

Digesting Common Core:
Common Core series
• How Common Core began (published Jan. 4)
• What are Common Core standards? (published Jan. 11)
  • Political bias and standards versus curriculum (published Jan. 18)
• Common Core funding and cost to local districts (published Jan. 25)
• Is it constitutional? (published Feb. 1)
• A teacher's perspective and local implementation (published Feb. 8)
• Data mining: Protecting student identity (published Feb. 15)
• Repeal bill in Ohio legislature
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