What Wakefield, NH’s School Board Is Doing to Ensure a First-Rate Education for All Its Students

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As state legislatures begin to pick up steam in their efforts to get rid of the Common Core octopus, with its many hidden tentacles reaching into the entire curriculum (under the guise of “literacy” standards), Common Core advocates have come up with a new ploy to ward off efforts to repeal Common Core and put first-rate standards in their place. It takes too long and costs too much money, Common Core advocates are now saying, to come up with another set of standards for ELA and math.  Here is what was in a newsletter put out by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas.

States that drop Common Core standards under the gun for replacing them: States that drop the Common Core State Standards face the prospect of less time to create new academic standards, and under intense political pressure. Generally, states have years to review content standards and make major changes if state school board members, those usually charged with ultimate approval of content standards, and others feel it’s necessary. The process usually involves lengthy discussions, drafts, and revisions overseen by teachers at each grade level, as well as content-area experts and others who try to ensure the standards connect across grade levels.   (OEP Web Links, July 16, 2014).

This is a bogus claim, since nothing like this process took place with the excessively speedy development of Common Core’s standards, violating every civic procedure in place for a state’s own standards but with no complaints by any state board of education or governor.  Any state or local school district can come up with a first-class set of college and career-ready standards in ELA and math in a matter of minutes.  Many states already had them: MA, CA, Indiana in 2006, Georgia, for example. They weren’t perfect, but they were far better than what Common Core has offered the 45 plus states now stuck with its low expectations and Common Core’s hidden strings.

All a state or local district has to do (and it takes only a matter of weeks, not years) is adopt wholesale once highly-rated standards and ask high school English teachers to tweak the high school literature standards to reflect state or regional authors and works. Good math standards should be similar across states (to paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy marriages are similar), and there is no need for any appointed group to diddle with good math standards right now.

A state board of education could immediately post the standards proposed by a revision committee for a two-week public comment period (the same two-week period allowed for Common Core’s standards) and adopt them in less than a month, at little or no cost to the taxpayers in the state.

Local districts are already beginning to do this since they have had the legal authority for hundreds of years to adopt and implement whatever standards they wish.  That is what plucky little Wakefield, New Hampshire’s school board did last spring.  Its board decided to adopt the old Massachusetts ELA and math standards (after all, they had an empirical record of effectiveness, unlike Common Core’s) and is already implementing them.  The Wakefield school board, school administrators, teachers, and parents all seem to be working together to implement a far more demanding academic curriculum than will be in place in most other New Hampshire communities this coming year, as suggested by our two and one/half hour discussion on July 15, 2014.   Their kids will become better readers and writers even if state-sponsored Common Core-based tests use test items that won’t show it.

But Wakefield will face a new hurdle next year. What happens when an appointed state board of education, backed by a commissioner of education, tells a district that it must use a Common Core-based test?  And the local board refuses to do so, on the grounds that a Common Core-based test is incompatible with its locally supported and legally approved school curriculum, based on locally adopted standards that are far superior to Common Core’s? And that the local board has more trust in local teacher-made tests than in the unknown quality of a Common Core-based test that scores students’ Open Responses elsewhere, possibly by a computer? We don’t know.

The statutory issue may have to be adjudicated by a state court. Let such a case proceed.  There are pro bono lawyers in the country to help local parents make the case that they should decide what they want their kids taught by means of their elected school boards, not Bill Gates and his minions on a state board of education.