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Common Core Bills Likely To Divide Conservatives

Sam Evans-Brown

The state adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010 with little controversy at the time. But you wouldn’t know that by the tone of a legislative forum Tuesday morning.  The controversy over the Common Core State Standards has made its way to the New Hampshire legislature. This session lawmakers will be asked to consider pulling the plug on the state’s new educational goalposts.

The hall was packed with conservative activists who called the forum one-sided.

But Education commissioner Virginia Barry says a lot of the claims of opponents are simply untrue, “You know, it’s really become a political issue in our state, and it’s really hard to change people’s mind when they’ve politically locked into information whether it’s correct or not.” (For more on the arguments against the Common Core, see our earlier series)

These standards are an attempt to get at a thorny problem: many states have different goals for what public school students should know when they finish each grade – some easier, some tough – but setting standards is a state’s prerogative.

The keynote speaker at the Democrats’ event, Mark Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, says it became clear years ago that common standards were needed because sometimes teachers within the same school weren’t even on the same page. “A given topic could be taught in the same school in four or five different grade levels,” he says.

The creators of the Common Core wanted to create a consensus document that would set the same bar for all students, and set it uniformly high, and let states adopt it as they saw fit.

“You need a system, I know it’s not always a welcome message, but you need a system,” Tucker told assembled lawmakers.

Bills To be Filed

But now that 46 states have adopted the Common Core, those who think the whole program feels like a federal over-reach are taking aim at the standards. New Hampshire lawmakers are drafting several bills inspired by the concerns of Common Core skeptics.

One seeks to delay standardized tests associated with the standards, others seek to firm up privacy laws and protect student data, and still another would pull the state out of the program all together.

“They should not be pushing something onto the local communities without funding it,” says Londonderry Republican Al Baldasaro, a co-sponsor of that last bill. “The legislature didn’t give the authority, so we’re going to try our damndest to stop it.”

But those involved in state-level education have presented united front in favor of the standards. The head of the state’s largest teacher’s union, Scott McGilvray of the NEA, says in surveys and face to face conversations his organization has done, educators are by-in-large in favor of the new standards, which mirrors national survey results

But that’s not to say teachers don’t have their own concerns.

There are “two main concerns,” says McGilvray, “One is that we be given time to implement this; that we don’t rush into this like we have typically in a lot of reform movements. And the second concern is that they’re given the professional development, the tools and resources necessary to get out there and do the actual work.”

Republicans Could Be Divided

It’s not just bureaucrats and unions that favor the standards, some Republicans do too. Just as has already occurred in other states, the Common Core is likely to divide New Hampshire conservatives.

“We do need to raise the bar in education throughout this country and this state,” says Rick Ladd, a Haverhill Republican on the House Education Committee, who thinks the Common Core makes sense. “We’ve spent an awful lot of money toward education. It’s time now that we look at what we’re using this money for.”

With the Democrats controlling the House and a potential split in the Republican caucus, the future of a bill that would pull the state out of the program is pretty dim.

But that won’t stop activists from taking the fight to local school-boards, especially since Commissioner Barry has said that the decision to adopt the standards is still up to each district.

“Yes, they have the option, but I believe that high quality schools will choose the standards,” Barry reiterated on Thursday.

This is especially likely since whether schools accept the standards or not, according to state law they will be tested on them in spring of 2015.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.

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