Education Experts Push Common Core

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The state superintendent and the president of a bipartisan education group did their best Tuesday to persuade lawmakers that national standards would be best for Michigan.

"The Common Core state standards are the best foundation possible for ensuring career- and college-ready Michigan graduates," said State Superintendent Michael Flanagan.

Common Core is a set of math and language arts educational standards created by a group of the country's governors and state superintendents. The purpose is to increase consistency between the school systems in different states, thereby making students more prepared for their futures regardless of where they may be.

Education experts say it's not a prescribed curriculum, but rather a yardstick by which to measure educational achievement.

"They are not a set of instructional methods," said Michael Cohen, president of Washington D.C.-based Achieve Inc. "They are not a set of instructional materials. Depending on the state those are either determined individually by the state or left to the local school boards or teachers to decide on their own."

States are free to approve the standards individually and so far 45 have in full. Minnesota has chosen to adopt only the language arts portion. Alaska, Texas, Nebraska and Virginia have abstained to date.

The Michigan Department of Education adopted the program in 2010 and began taking steps to implement it, but the legislature has since blocked its funding. The hearings will ultimately lead to a vote on whether Common Core is best for the state.

Cohen said adopting a set of common goals can raise the country's level of proficiency, as scores on various state tests rarely equate.

"Proficient in Michigan does not mean proficient in Minnesota or proficient in Massachusetts," he said Tuesday. "The scores that earn a proficient determination on the fourth-grade reading test [in Michigan] would be considered below basic on the fourth-grade national assessment in progress. Clearly in many states students are told that they're proficient when they're not really prepared for what comes next."

Nationalizing standards would also put the US on pace with many other countries, Cohen said.

The standards would come with a new set of tests that would replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

"These tests are used to hold schools accountable," Cohen said. "Tests are the tools that you use and students use and the parents use to know if the schools in the state are making progress and whether the tax dollars you spend are actually producing the results that you need."

Opponents say they fear adopting Common Core will result in a nationalized curriculum, taking the power out of the hands of local school districts.

"They say that we'll have a seat at the table," said Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills). "We own the table right now. Before Common Core we were deciding what standards were taught in our schools. With Common Core we don't.

"I really wish we'd get away from this idea that they're only standards. They will decide curriculum. You test standards with assessments and you teach to the test."

Other representatives from both sides of the aisle questioned student privacy when it comes to collecting data and where some of the money would come from to support some of the program's technology goals.

Tuesday was the first of four hearings on Common Core. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) has said he wants legislators to take a vote before the fiscal year begins and the budget takes effect October 1.

Legislators said the two-and-a-half-hour hearing was a good start.

"I'm encouraged by what I heard today," said Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing). "There were a lot of tough questions. The Dept. of Education clearly are the experts and they have done the research and they have decided this is the standard to move forward with and I think that we need to make sure that we as legislators agree and that it's done the right way and I think they're doing a good job so far."