Citizens concerned with keeping local control of education have asked school administrators and board to reject Common Core standards.
Five residents addressed the New London Board of Education during the public forum at the start of the regular monthly meeting on Monday, Oct. 14.
All said Common Core standards under discussion at the federal level — and in the Wisconsin State Legislature — would erode local control of schools.
“For local districts to have high standards doesn’t have to come from the federal government,” said Chad Martinson.
School administrator Kathy Gwidt assured the board and visitors that Common Core, introduced in 2010, is considered a guideline in New London schools.
“Common Core is not limiting New London. We’re reaching beyond,” Gwidt said.
Common Core follows the 2001 No Child Left Behind, which let each state define proficiency in education — and left many children behind due to those varying standards.
In a topic sheet for the meeting, Gwidt described the Common Core standards as “rigorous, internationally benchmarked expectations for students in grades K-12.”
Common Core attempts to quantify what students need to know in math and English language arts at each grade to move up and on in the modern world. The standards offer guidelines to level the playing field — so that students in New London, Appleton and elsewhere in the country graduate from high school ready for college or career and to compete in the global work place.
Gwidt said the New London district works locally and is always looking for resources to “keep us competitive with the rest of the world.”
Before Common Core, she said, Wisconsin schools used 1998 standards that were “OK at best.”
In 2008, New London began to focus on “clear learning targets,” picking and choosing from among dozens of educational models. Two years later, common core offered “one more resource,” Gwidt said.
She said the district appreciates local control of education but also appreciates federal information — educators want to know what’s out there, and to take the politics out of it.
“Expectations are much higher than they ever were,” she said.
Seth Cowan, representing the Wolf River Area Patriots — the local Tea Party, he said after the meeting — presented a resolution asking the board to discontinue any affiliation with Common Core.
Cowan said he believes Common Core removes control of curriculum and testing from local school boards.
“We believe local school boards know what’s best for local schools,” Cowan said.
Merry Stern said she was concerned that there was an agenda and philosophy concealed in classroom exercises such as math story problems.
“What are they really trying to teach?” Stern asked.
Gwidt assured the visitors that curriculum is a local decision.
“We don’t indicate locally what needs to be read,” she said. That decision is left to classroom teachers and building principals.
“Those decisions indeed have been local,” Gwidt said.
Larry Hill said he taught in another state where school funding and teacher salaries were tied to student test results.
“We simply made sure they could pass the test … so I got my pay raise,” Hill said. “We taught tests, not students.”
Gwidt said tests today are essay-based, rather than true/false or yes/no. Students have to explain their answers in well written sentences and paragraphs.
Jackie Kislewski, who said she had attended a hearing in Madison on common core, expressed concern about the role of private money and organizations in developing the standards.
Kislewski questioned the use of state-provided computers for standardized testing. She raised the spectre of biofeedback monitoring of students to see how they react to what’s being taught.
She urged the board to “evaluate what is best for children, teachers, our country and our future.”
Gwidt said she did not know of any state plans to provide testing computers to school districts.
She said New London would “embrace the Common Core in a way that is commonsense.”
Board member Kim Schroeter thanked the visitors for their input and urged them to keep their eyes and ears open.
Gwidt, too, said, she “appreciates the concern that’s been voiced tonight.”