Massachusetts school board wants to boot federal regulations

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Massachusetts school board wants to boot federal regulations
Asks for law that would make school accountable for state standards
Published: 02/06/2011 at 8:49 PM

A Massachusetts school committee is working with a state lawmaker on a proposal that would allow the district to keep Massachusetts’ education standards – and opt out of the state Board of Education’s July 21 decision to adopt the federal Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The proposal makes the Sturbridge, Mass.-based Tantasqua Regional School Committee the first district nationwide trying to opt out of the federal guidelines.

School Committee Chairman Kathleen Neal says officials are concerned about the costs imposed by a mandatory change to a federal program.

“Our school committee has talked about it several times, especially on the impact on our students and quite frankly on our budget. Ultimately it will have an impact on our budget because of the change in curriculum and the change in testing,” Neal explained.

“So we voted two things, one to file a resolution with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to which we belong, and ask them to file legislation to override the vote of the state board,” Neal detailed.

“Because the State Association of School Committees doesn’t meet until November, we also asked one of our state representatives to file legislation to overturn that vote and to retain the Massachusetts standards and the MCAS Assessment,” Neal added.

The MCAS is the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, a series of tests designed to find out if the students are meeting the achievement standards set by Massachusetts’ Education Reform Law of 1993.

Neal says she believes the state standards have worked quite well for Massachusetts schools and the standards are an accurate gauge of student progress.

The Massachusetts State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the Common Core Curriculum Standards in July. Board members said at the time they believe the new standards will raise academic demands.

“The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education cited the increased academic rigor and stronger expectations for student performance when it voted 8-0 to adopt the Common Core Standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics on Wednesday, making Massachusetts the 27th state to adopt the internationally benchmarked academic standards that promise to keep the Commonwealth’s students national leaders in education,” the statement said.

The bill sponsor, Palmer and Sturbridge-area State Rep. Todd Smola, said he’s not buying the state board’s argument for changing the standards. Smola says the district’s interest in opting out is simple: If it’s not broken, it doesn’t need fixing.

“One of the big concerns that many people have relative to the adoption of the Common Core Standards is the fact that the state of Massachusetts leads the nation in education,” Smola observed.

“We are No. 1 in the country. We’re No. 1 in education and we’re No. 1 in student performance. So, to revert to the Common Core Curriculum standards model is a question that many people of Massachusetts were looking at and saying, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Smola related.

“If we are the ones who set the standard in the country; if we are the ones who rank No. 1, why do you change game plans when a plan seems to be working?” Smola inquired.

Smola says this basic question is why the Tantasqua School Committee is concerned about the state board of education’s move.

“They’re asking themselves this question at the local level. ‘Why did we change? What was the reason for it? If everything was moving forward well in Massachusetts, why would you make this adjustment?’” Smola continued.

The lawmaker says a change in standards might be appropriate if Massachusetts students ranked near the bottom of the list.

In answer to the question of whether the state board might have adopted the national standards for federal aid purposes, Smola thinks the state board might have dollar signs in its eyes.

“I think it’s a very distinct possibility. Other states should be using Massachusetts as a model, so in Massachusetts, this is not a question as to whether those standards are a good move for education,” Smola asserted.

“The question is, ‘Did we adopt Common Core Standards because we believe it’s the best path for education?’ Or, ‘Did we adopt Common Core because there was financial assistance attached to it for Race to the Top funds?’” Smola continued.

“If we changed because there was money attached to it, then we absolutely did it for the wrong reasons. That’s the question that we’re asking, that many educators in Massachusetts are asking,” Smola added.

Neal believes there was a financial incentive.

“I think the reason the state board adopted these is that it’s a requirement for Race to the Top money. That’s why they adopted it,” Neal pointed out.

“As far as I know there wasn’t a lot of notice or a whole lot of discussion or input from the school committees when the state board met. I read about it in the newspaper after the fact,” Neal stated. “I was surprised.”

She says that her system hasn’t applied for any Race to the Top money and there is concern about additional federal control of the local academic programs and that Massachusetts schools will lose any autonomy over their programs.

In a statement for the press, state schools commissioner Mitchell D. Chester said he would provide assurances that local districts can adjust the standards to their local needs.

The state board did not responded to requests for comment on this story.

Neal says she believes the reason her system didn’t apply for Race to the Top grants was that the Tantasqua system isn’t eligible for many of the grants.

“The increased administrative requirements for the Race to the Top money, it really wasn’t worth it for us to apply for it. Our superintendent and the school committee agreed,” Neal stated.

Neal says she doesn’t know if the bill will succeed because many of the number of districts that have applied for Race to the Top funding.

“I don’t know if it’s going to go anywhere with so many communities [that] did apply for Race to the Top and that’s a requirement I believe for Race to the Top money. I don’t that the bill will get that much support,” Neal said.

Smola also says he’s not sure of how much support his bill will receive, but ultimately he believes it’s best to keep the federal government out of the local schools


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