By Emily Younker
Globe Staff Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. —
With little more than a year before Common Core State Standards are fully implemented in Missouri public schools, educators and parents are making sure their opinions on the topic are heard. Legislators also are taking a look at their implementation.
Advocates and critics were each represented Thursday at an informational session about Common Core hosted by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The meeting, held at the Kraft Administration Center in Springfield, drew about 200 people from Southwest Missouri, including teachers, principals, school administrators, school board members and parents. Meetings also were held simultaneously in each of the state’s other congressional districts.
Common Core is a set of learning standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics.
Third-graders, for example, should be able to interpret products of whole numbers, such as 5 times 7, as the total number of objects in 5 groups of 7 objects each. Eighth-graders should be able to explain the function of gerunds, participles and infinitives in general and their function in particular sentences; form and use verbs in active and passive voices; and use punctuation such as commas and dashes to indicate a pause or break.
The standards have been adopted by 45 states, including Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma in 2010.
Local school districts are gearing up for full implementation of Common Core standards by the 2014-15 academic year. Implementation of the standards also has garnered support in Missouri from more than 200 school districts, including Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, McDonald County, East Newton, Jasper, Lamar and Neosho; and 35 colleges and universities, including Crowder College and the School of Education at Missouri Southern State University.
But Common Core also has sparked critics, including some parents, educators and legislators who are now pushing back.
‘Equality for all kids’
In an overview presentation, Mike Wutke, of the state education department, told the audience Thursday that Common Core provides consistent standards for students that will be comparable among the states. States currently have different sets of standards and assessments. He said their goal is to help students graduate from high school ready for college or their career.
Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent of Cassville schools, said she attended the meeting to stay engaged in the discussion about the new standards.
“I want to make sure that teachers know what’s expected and what they need to do, so anytime there’s a meeting on Common Core, I try to attend so I can relay that information back to our teachers,” she said.
LeCompte said one benefit of Common Core is that it is expected to create a level playing field among students in terms of what they should know and be taught at each grade level.
Prior to Common Core, each state defined for itself how to comply with the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which is the nation’s general education law. As a result, student learning expectations and assessment tests vary from state to state. Educators were often frustrated that states were compared and ranked against each other despite discrepancies in standards and testing.
LeCompte believes Common Core standards would be helpful for students in Cassville, where students move frequently between the district and school districts in nearby states, she said.
“That’s why I think Common Core is going to be so much better (than state standards currently in place), because there’s going to be that equality for all kids,” she said. “Won’t that be nice if what students are learning in the third grade is the same in Oklahoma, is the same in Arkansas, is the same in Missouri?”
Also in attendance was Jim Kimbrough, a member of the Joplin Board of Education, who said he came to learn more about Common Core in hopes of getting some of his questions answered.
The meeting also drew a crowd of people who were at times argumentative and overriding Wutke as he spoke, reflecting concerns that some parents and others have with Common Core standards.
During Thursday’s meeting, a handful of those in attendance attempted, without success, to force an open debate of Common Core rather than breaking into small groups for discussion as they had been instructed.
Anne Gassel, who lives near St. Louis, is a co-founder of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core and attended one of the state meetings near her home last week.
Gassel claims that the standards were “drafted behind closed doors by a very small committee” and that no one from Missouri had any meaningful input.
“Missouri did not have a voice in the drafting of these standards,” she said Saturday.
“We are not opposed to standards,” she added. “Our issue is (local) control.”
She also said some of the standards are not age-appropriate, including one that requires kindergarten students to be able to recognize common forms of stories — discerning the difference between poems and stories, for example.
And while 45 states have adopted Common Core standards, she said at least 13 of those states — Missouri included — have legislative efforts to stop their implementation.
Missouri Senate Bill 210, sponsored by state Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, would require the state education department to conduct a cost analysis of Common Core standards, which critics have said will be twice as expensive as Missouri Assessment Program or MAP tests, and hold public hearings on Common Core.
Missouri House Bill 616, sponsored by state Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, would prohibit the state Board of Education from adopting the standards.
State Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, is a co-sponsor of that House bill. He said that bill did not make it to the floor for a vote this session and seems unlikely to pass, but he believes legislators and others will want more questions answered before the state pushes forward with the Common Core standards.
While he did not make it to any of the state’s sessions last week, he said he worries that implementation of Common Core will lead to a dumbing down of standards for schools in the area.
Southwest Missouri schools, he said, fare better on tests than schools in some other parts of the state and the country, and he thinks that could be sacrificed with the Common Core approach if the standards are inferior to what Missouri uses now.
“I can’t be convinced that a Common Core standard won’t drop everything to the lowest common denominator,” he said Saturday. “I think it needs to be the local school boards that set the standards.”
The state education department has said the federal government played no role in creating or implementing the standards. It also has said that Common Core won’t prevent teachers from creating and following their own curriculum.
But while the Common Core standards were not drawn up by the federal government, Gassel said their development was paid for with federal stimulus money.
Lant believes that federal funding will eventually be used to leverage every state and school district to participate.
“Sooner or later they always get around to that,” he said. “We in Missouri have a much better idea of what we need to educate our children than they have in Washington.”
He also is concerned that Common Core standards are being adopted with little discussion.
“I think it needs to be more thoroughly vetted before we decide what we’re going to do or not going to do. People need to know what they are buying into,” he said.
The Common Core State Standards are posted at corestandards.org. A list of questions asked at last week’s state meetings and their answers will be posted to the website of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, dese.mo.gov.