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House members take a step back from Common Core

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Despite the fact that the West Virginia Legislature was not involved in the initial Common Core discussion and implementation, members are beginning to try to make their voices heard on the issue.

That voice is echoed in House Bill 4383 and House Bill 4390.

The overarching theme of both bills is to put a halt to the current implementation of West Virginia's Next Generation Content Standards, West Virginia's name for Common Core curriculum.

Not only were the Common Core standards adopted in many states through Race to the Top program funding, but also through states' acceptance of No Child Left Behind waivers.

Looking at House Bill 4383

House Bill 4383 attempts to slow down the implementation of Common Core standards and keep people informed throughout the process. 

According to the bill, a "Legislative Common Core Study Committee would be established to study issues relating to the implementation of Common Core standards and assessments in West Virginia and report to the Governor and Legislature no later than six months after the final public hearing, or on or before the first day of the 2016 Regular Session of the Legislature, whichever comes first." 

The proposed legislation also would place a two-year moratorium on implementation of Common Core assessments.

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, and Delegate Lynwood Ireland, R-Ritchie, both sponsors of the bill, have raised questions in regards to those two points.

"We understand (the state board) wouldn't want to back up and start all over again right now," Butler said. "But it puts a two-year moratorium on the testing that the students would be exposed to. 

"Basically it causes us to back up and look at what this is before we really put it into full swing."

According to Ireland, stepping back and taking time to study the issues relating to the implementation of Common Core standards and assessments is important due to the entities involved in the original creation and implementation. 

"I am very much concerned about … I don't know the proper term … the invasion, if you will, of all (Common Core) decisions by the federal bureaucracy," Ireland said. "First by the state bureaucracy and more troubling is the federal bureaucracy. 

"If you look at Common Core, there are certainly parts of Common Core that underlie those concerns of mine."

Laying the groundwork

Pushing the hold button for two years would allow for a study outlining "what the cost is going to be, what the effects are going to be, if we have the infrastructure to do this and if we have the technology," Butler said.

As it's written in the proposed legislation, "the State Board may not continue to implement the Common Core Assessments currently scheduled for school year 2014-2015 as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, for two years to allow for the following to occur … " Those requirements would include the appointment of a Legislative Common Core Study committee and a fiscal analysis of the past, present and future cost of implementation of the Common Core standards and associated assessments, which would include, but not be limited to, curriculum, testing, data collection and storage, additional personnel, training, materials, equipment, hardware, software and computer upgrades. 

Many who are closely following Common Core wonder why a study regarding its implementation and effects wasn't done on the forefront rather than on the back end as an afterthought.

Another provision of the proposed legislation is that "the state board may not adopt any national standards in curricular areas other than English Language Arts and Mathematics or any standards modeled on such national standards that are substantially identical to those national standards, without completing the (above-mentioned) process."

As a result, ample time would be given to assess what is already in place before moving forward.

"(The state board) can't adopt any new standards until we find out what all this is," Butler said. "We don't want them to continue down this road while we're still trying to study it."

Safeguarding student information

For many parents and community members, the issue of student data and privacy has been at the heart of the Common Core debate.

House Bill 4383 attempts to address that issue, basically calling for no new personally identifiable information for students or teachers be shared without consent.

Contained in the proposed legislation is the provision that "notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, and pending the committee's report of finding to the Governor and the Legislature, the superintendent of schools, the state board, the department or any other state entity that deals with education may not collect any new, share or allow access to any personally identifiable information, directory information or student-level information of students or teachers with any entity outside the state without prior written affirmative consent of parent or guardian or teacher." 

Sharing the same information with the United States Department of Education without prior written consent of the parent or guardian also would be prohibited. 

Butler said the written affirmative consent is important to note.

"(The bill) requires written affirmative consent which is a little different," he said. "Sometimes (educators will) send a paper home with the kid and say, ‘If your parent doesn't want you doing this, have them sign (this piece of paper) and bring it back.' 

"Of course, a lot of times, parents never get to see (the piece of paper). So the parents are consenting without ever actually knowing what's happening."

Ireland also expressed concern about "the sharing of personal data and the potential for that" and hopes the proposed bill will safeguard the same concern that many others share.

Through the provisions listed, student data would be better protected, giving the parents and guardians final authority and ensuring educators gain permission from the parents before collecting or sharing the data.

Focusing on the individual student

One of the remedies Ireland hopes this bill will accomplish is getting back to the concept of giving local teachers the ability to recognize the individual needs of the students and enhancing that student's interest and skills. Another issue Ireland hopes to address through the proposed legislation is the erosion of the decision-making process by the local teacher due to dictation of what the curriculum will be, how teachers will teach it and what textbooks teachers shall use.

"Obviously you and I are going to have different interests and different capabilities in various subjects so that ability to tailor the education to the individual need of the student is extremely important," he said. "I think Common Core, if it doesn't directly take that away, it certainly tends to take that away."

What matters, Ireland said, is how teachers finally apply Common Core and what flexibility the local people have in that application.

Another motivation for Ireland to sponsor the proposed legislation is his rejection of the Common Core one-size-fits-all mentality.

While Ireland comes from an engineering background and has been a chemical engineer for 33½ years, he says it's important to realize not everyone will chose that same career path, or any other career path for that matter.

"You've got to recognize not everybody is going to be an engineer and not everybody is going to be a mathematician or scientist," he said. "There's a lot of folks that are going to be artists or musicians or whatever their capability is. 

"We're all different. To try and do a one-size-fits-all is kind of ridiculous."

Not only do individuals choose different career paths, but they learn differently as well, Ireland said.

"Some students are going to progress through some subjects quicker than other students," he said. "If you don't have some flexibility to recognize that and respond to that then those students, either the very bright or the ones that struggle for whatever reason, are both penalized. I think that is a significant problem."

Teacher-student interaction

Another of Ireland's concerns he hopes HB 4383 will help address is the lack of teacher-student interaction potentially caused as a result of Common Core.

"The interaction part of it is where it is," Ireland said. "That ability, to me, is what separates the good teachers from the bad teachers. 

"The ability to interact and recognize is where the rubber meets the road."

Ireland reasoned that if education become one-size-fits-all and lacks any attention to individual students' needs, with everything from curriculum and testing coming in a prepackaged bundle, why would there be any logical need for a teacher? And, if a teacher is going to be graded on a student's ability to pass a test only, his or her position could become even more obsolete and not needed.  

While that extreme scenario probably won't happen, Ireland said, he did use the analogy of walking down a road and never stopping on the way down.

Adding to the list of shortfalls

The amount of money that West Virginia puts into the school system from outside the classroom is another issue Ireland sees Common Core hurting, not helping.  

"We spend over half of our general revenue budget on education and I'm concerned we're not getting the bang for our buck," he said. "We end up spending more on a per capita basis than most states and yet our scores are below most states. 

"That tells you there's a problem there somewhere."

The problem, Ireland said, are the bureaucratic and federal programs currently in place that don't get delivered to the students themselves.

At a House Education Committee, when Ireland was a part of that committee, the school funding formula was discussed.

During the course of the meeting, Ireland asked why it would be necessary to have programs in place if it reduced the amount of interaction with the student. According to Ireland, the best solution would be to reduce the program.

"I recognize there's a certain amount of administration that needs to happen but I think we are overburdened with that," he said. "Common Core I think adds to that."

According to Ireland, what Common Core fails to address is that educational woes are, in actuality, a societal issue.

"We can build the finest schools, we can put the best technology in it and we can pay teachers the highest salary in the United States, but if that child doesn't want to learn or doesn't care and their parents could care less, it's not going to matter," he said. "I think sometimes we work on the wrong solution to the problem. We spent a lot of money building these schools, which I'm in favor of. 

"We're concerned about the competitiveness of our teachers and our ability to keep them, which is a reasonable and real problem, but we neglect sometimes the motivation piece of it and the parent responsibility piece which comes back to a society issue."   

House Bill 4390

With House Bill 4390, not only would stalling Common Core assessment implementation and the addition of new national standards be possible, but pulling out of Common Core altogether.

"There's an actual procedure to pull out of this Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and it makes it where we'll control our own standards, our own process for having education standards and it sets up … a way to get educators in West Virginia together and develop our own standards," Butler said. 

Once the standards are decided, they would then have to be approved in different areas of the state. Once the standards are developed, it would be required that they be looked at every few years. 

When it comes to Common Core implementation in general, Ireland advocated erring on the side of caution.

"I'm concerned about where we're going with Common Core," he said. "This particular bill (House Bill 4349), whether it solves all those problems or not, at least what it does try to do is say let's understand where we're going before we go. I don't think we (understand) currently. I think that we really need to step back and evaluate."

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