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Common core raises concerns in legislative meetings

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Butler Butler

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, represents the 14th District in the House of Delegates, which includes part of Mason County and part of Putnam County. He was first elected in 2012 and can be reached at 304-340-3199.

I just returned from the September legislative interim meetings. For those who are not familiar with "sessions," this is a brief explanation: The West Virginia Legislature is a part-time legislature. Most of us have to keep our "regular" jobs to maintain our home lives. I happen to be a local excavating contractor. 

Normally state legislators have a 60-day regular session from mid-January to mid-March. That means we are at the Capitol every day for that period, like a full-time job. The regular session is where we actually discuss and vote on bills. For the rest of the year, we attend interim sessions which are usually three days a month to study proposed legislation, hear reports pertaining to state issues, etc. We are preparing for the next regular session.

In the House of Delegates I am on three committees: Natural Resources, Transportation and Education. For the months of June, July and August the issues that have taken a lot of my attention have been the issue of funding road construction and repairs and a new education "method" called Common Core. The first issue mentioned has received some local coverage, so I will focus on Common Core for this article.

The West Virginia Board of Education calls it West Virginia Next Generation Standards, and we are implementing it now. If you have tried to help your kids do homework you may have gotten an introduction. This is a very complex issue, and even the teachers that I have spoken to know little about it. Unfortunately, teachers are very familiar with guidelines and standards that change every few years. I cannot count the times that I have been told that "about the time they learn the new system the state abandons it and implements a new one." 

I am concerned for them, the teachers, and I am especially concerned for our children.  I would like to explain some of the things that I have learned about Common Core in the last few weeks. I attended a conference at the University of Notre Dame to learn more about it from college professors who were actually on the Validation Committee for common core standards. There are books being written on this subject, and experts in the field of creating curriculum standards have written long commentaries on this subject, so this is very brief. I encourage anyone interested to do your own research. 


  • Could be Harmful at Early Ages: The most troubling report that I have heard is the opinion of child psychologists who say that common core standards will actually be harmful to our children in the early grades. They explain that authors of the common core standards are introducing material at a developmentally inappropriate age. This may stress the children, frustrate them and even cause behavior problems. In addition, it could cause them to "tune out," affecting their ability to learn throughout their lives. The child psychologist that I heard at Notre Dame, Dr. Megan Koschnick, backed those assertions up and pointed out that no early childhood experts were included when standards were developed. She says that "it is not even apparent that the individual standards were tied to any research."

  • The Standards Aren't Good Enough: We have also been told by proponents of Common Core that the standards are higher; that our children will be better prepared for college.  James Milgram, a professor of mathematics at Stanford University, disagrees. He has testified and written that the standards are not good enough. I was blown away when I heard that geometry is being taught without proofs. He points out that in Common Core there is no requirement for calculus, trigonometry or geometry. Algebra 2 is the new standard and that does not prepare students for college, or even courses relevant to today's needs in high school curriculum. He says that American students will not be able to meet the requirements to get into top level colleges. Regarding the new standards in elementary school math, he is not a fan of the emphasis on what we may call "new math." Milgram was the only mathematician on the Validation Committee and he refused to sign off on it. As evidence, one of the lead writers of Common Core math, Professor Jason Zimba said, "the concept of college readiness is minimal and focused on non-selective colleges."

  • Abandoning Classic Literature:   Sandra Stotsky, who developed standards and curriculum for Massachusetts when they catapulted to the top of international rankings, also testified and wrote that English and language arts standards are not adequate. She is troubled by the fact that we are abandoning long accepted classic literature, such as "Charlotte's Web," "To Kill a Mockingbird," or Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and substituting it with informational text such as magazines, text books, instruction manuals, etc. She explained, "the more you read great literature, the better you learn to write great literature." 

    Instead we are starting kids off with no solid basis for good writing. As the only expert on K-12 English language arts standards by virtue of her previous work, she also refused to sign off on Common Core Standards. Another presentation from a history professor, Terrence Moore, pointed out that the claim of reading the Bill of Rights, for example, did direct that parts of the bill of rights be read. Interestingly, the 2nd and 10th amendments were not included. In other examples actual reading required of the student was minimal. The emphasis was placed on how the student felt about a couple of passages from a novel, or what their opinion was, rather than actual reading and comprehending.

  • Problems for Teachers: These standards may also be problematic for teachers considering that they are evaluated on the performance of students. If the experts in child psychology are correct, students who cannot cope with inappropriate demands will not test well. Many teachers are aware of this reality which is why even teachers unions, in some cases, are opposed to Common Core.

    An example is in Florida, where a self-proclaimed left wing teachers union is fighting it. In fact, on Sept. 23, Florida announced it is backing off from the Common Core testing system, and it was the money manager for its group of states. Other states also are re-evaluating their positions concerning the new standards. While at Notre Dame, I spoke with state legislators from Indiana and Michigan about their efforts.

  • Private Information Becomes Public: Data protection is also a concern, with data being private information on our children. I have been assured that information will not be shared or released, but many in the Legislature are seeking more clarification on this. 

    Lines taken directly from the application for funds to create West Virginia's data managing system raise questions for me. One quote: "Changing rules under FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act), demands for data at the state and federal levels and open access to data require a thorough analysis of legal requirements and public documentation." 

    I know from earlier research that FERPA protections have already been weakened, and considering the events in the news recently concerning data collection, it is wise to be concerned. There are many other references to data sharing and privacy. again, we are seeking clarification.

  • Concern for Cost: Another concern is cost. A federal grant pays for some of the implementation but how we pay for the needed technology and the continuing cost remains unanswered. I think that it is safe to say that this will not be cheap.


Once again my primary concern is for the children. Teachers and parents have the ability to determine whether or not we continue down this road. To my knowledge, this change has not been closely examined by parents, local school boards or the Legislature. As a member of the Legislature, I am not an expert on every subject, and in this instance when I have credible information from experts in the field of higher education and psychology telling me that these standards are low or harmful, shouldn't they be examined more closely by the Legislature and everyone else who has the best interests of our children in mind? Thank you for your time and consideration; it is an honor to serve you.


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