Republicans Not Giving Up On Common Core Moratorium [Hartford Courant]

March 24, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

They Want A Vote On Moratorium But Say They’re Open To Substantial Revisions

HARTFORD — Although it’s clear that the chairpersons of the legislature’s education committee don’t favor delaying the Common Core State Standards, it’s also clear that some Republicans aren’t giving up on a bill that would place a moratorium on the rollout of the new academic standards.

Ranking Republican members of the committee, Sen. Toni Boucher and Rep. Tim Ackert, said this week that they hope to collaborate with all committee members to come up with an acceptable version of the proposed bill, which was the main topic discussed in a 13-hour legislative hearing last week.

But if the bill dies in committee, said Boucher, R-Wilton, she expects its supporters might take another route, perhaps attaching an amendment to another bill at some point in the legislative process.

“I can bet there might be some amendments that would be floated,” Boucher said. “There is such a strong sense of concern and feedback from the general public. I could see some amendments put out. I think it would be wiser to sit down and actually craft a bill that would take care of some of the people’s concerns.”

Ackert, R-Coventry, said he thinks it would be a disservice to the public not to have legislators vote on some version of the bill. “How often do we have a 13-hour … debate and conversation and we don’t allow the members to have a vote on it? Are we not allowing our members to vote for something that we as a group sat for 13 hours to deliberate on?”

“If they decide not to raise it,” Ackert said of the committee’s leaders, “I can’t promise … that someone’s not going to come out with an amendment.”

Both Republicans said they would prefer to have the matter raised as a bill in the education committee and that they are open to revisions that could be substantial. If that does not happen, the Republicans can attempt to amend a bill in the committee, as well as on the House and Senate floors.

“Any member can add an amendment any time,” Ackert said. “Until the end of the session on May 7, we can continue to push this issue.”

Asked whether the bill would be raised in the education committee, the committee’s co-chair, Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said: “I can’t give you an answer yet. We’re still screening [bills] …”

Many districts are already well underway in implementing a new curriculum based on the Common Core standards, she said, and “I’m not going to pull them back. I’m assuming at this point it’s moving forward, and I’m not going to reverse all the work that so many districts have embarked on.”

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, the committee’s other co-chair, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but said last week that he would “absolutely not” support a moratorium on the Common Core.

He said that to put the new standards on hold would mean going back to the old standards, “which have been shown to be inadequate.”

As it stands now, the proposed bill calls for a moratorium on the new academic standards and would prevent the state Department of Education from spending any money appropriated from the general fund for that purpose. The bill also calls for the department to investigate the effects of implementing the standards.

Legislators proposed the bill because of complaints they have heard from parents and teachers that the rollout of the Common Core has been uneven, and worries that children may be unprepared for a new standardized test set to start Tuesday. The test was created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and is based on the new academic standards.

At last week’s lengthy hearing, the education committee heard a wide range of testimony from opponents of the bill who said that any delay of the Common Core would hurt students and from others who supported a moratorium or wanted the Common Core out of the state altogether.

Boucher said she would like to see districts given the chance to make a local decision about whether to adopt the standards and the Smarter Balanced test that is based on it, or to stay with the old standards and curriculum and the Connecticut Mastery Test.

Ackert said it may make sense to remove language from the bill that refers to stopping funding for the Common Core, so that districts that are well along in the process can get the support they need to continue.

“But there are districts that unfortunately didn’t do this in a timely fashion,” Ackert said.

He said that he hopes legislators can work together to come up with “substitute language” for the bill that everyone can agree to.

“We have a couple more bites of the apple here,” he said. The committee is scheduled to meet Friday, Monday and Wednesday. The education committee’s deadline for a “joint favorable” decision on bills is Wednesday.

In 2010, the state Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards — also in place in 44 other states and considered by many to be more rigorous than previous standards — because of concerns that too many students were graduating from high school without the skills needed to succeed in college and careers.

Since then local districts have been moving at various speeds to design their own curriculums to align with the new standards.

There was little objection to the standards until this year when students will begin taking the Smarter Balanced test. This year’s test is a field test that will be given in 90 percent of Connecticut districts, but next year all districts must give the new test.

State education officials and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have taken steps to ease the transition to the standards and test. For instance, the state received a waiver from federal officials so that school districts don’t have to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. The state also has asked permission for the same arrangement next year. In addition, students will receive no scores, and the scores will not affect a district’s performance rating.

Last week — a day before the 13-hour hearing — Malloy also created a 25-member task force of educators to come up with recommendations by June 30 to improve the rollout of the new academic standards.

Stillman said, “I know a lot of parents aren’t happy about it because of pressure on their children, and I know some teachers feel overwhelmed … with a lot more responsibility on their shoulders in a short length of time.” But she said she thinks the steps Malloy has taken will help.

Despite these efforts to alleviate anxieties, many parents and teachers remain skeptical.

“The mad dash to get everything done overnight concerns me,” Boucher said. “It’s very disruptive. It produces a suspicion that someone has a grand plan and wants to take over education.”

She said that if students are not prepared to take the Smarter Balanced test it may also create “a feeling of failure” for them.

She said she would have preferred phasing in the Common Core State Standards, starting with kindergartners and moving up through the grades each year. By moving to the standards all at once, she said, it’s more likely that older children will not have had material that may be on the Smarter Balanced test.