Common Core Stirs Mat-Su Debate

Common Core, the federally – sponsored education standards adopted by many states, has raised the hackles of some Alaska  legislators.

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Representative Lora Reinbold (R Eagle River ) has been outspoken on the issue, and recently, the Matanuska Susitna Borough has been drawn into the argument.  On January 20, in Palmer,  the members of the Matanuska Susitna Assembly and the Borough’s School Board met in a joint session to hear about school standards. At the heart of the discussion — Common Core — a set of educational standards that has been voluntarily adopted by some states. Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss  convened the information – only meeting, saying:

“I just want you to know, this is not a ‘gotcha’  moment. We are partners here together and I think we all have the common interest of the very best education our kids can get. “

DeVilbiss told Borough School Superintendent Dr. Deena Paramo that he wanted to know a how closely the Borough school district is, or is not, aligned with Common Core. DeVilbis said he’d gotten quite a few questions about it from residents. Paramo fielded the questions one by one in a presentation to the joint panels. Later she said in a phone interview with APRN:

“If you put the Common Core standards, and our state standards next to each other, they are going to be quite similar.”

Paramo told the body that standards determine what expectations a student needs to meet, grade by grade.  Curriculum is the means used to meet the standards.

“And then we have one hundred percent local control over writing the curriculum that would meet those standards. So what happens in the classroom with how we teach, how we purchase textbooks, the materials that go with that… ”

Standards matching Common Core are used in  the Mat Su School District for math, she said:

“And in the Mat Su, we did only implement the math standards for Common Core. There are only math and English language arts standards.  So there are only two constructs for which the standards are written.  But in our community, we only implemented math, and we did find that they (standards) were more rigorous.”

It’s that increased rigor in math education that has pushed the state into developing new standards since 2012, according to Susan Macauley, director of teaching and learning support for the state department of education.

“Alaska opted to not adopt the Common Core state standards. What Alaska did do, and this is where some of the confusion is, what Alaska did do, as is required by statute and regulation, is adopt English and math standards. We did that in 2012.  Those standards are significantly different from the standards that we had previously, in terms of for lack of a better word, rigor, and there are similarities to the Common Core state standards, ”  Macauley says.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association devised the Common Core standards in an effort to create a uniform set of standards that would be the same state to state. To date 43 states have either totally or partially adapted Common Core or are moving toward it. But some parents, and some state legislators, are apprehensive that Common Core represents the long arm of federal outreach. Eagle River Rep. Lora Reinbold is one critic of the standards. Reinbold spoke at a Moose Lodge meeting in Palmer prior to the Mat Su Assembly/ School Board meeting, according to Borough Mayor DeVilbiss, in essence prompting many of the questions the mayor brought to the meeting.   DeVilbiss says parents of school students are pressuring him to find out more:

“One of my concerns is that this is the beginning of a progressive agenda that goes beyond math and English and language and arts. We know that in the works there’s history and science. I just hate to see a progressive agenda like this that has not been tested and is being criticized by a lot of educators. ”

DeVilbiss also says the Borough Assembly needs to evaluate how much time, and money, is needed to exceed state educational standards.

“You know, I can’t speak for the Assembly, but we’re going into budget session and I would say that opens the door for some negotiations.”

Representative Reinbold said by phone Thursday that her concern with Common Core lies with state sovereignty issues.

“Do we want the federal government to be telling us what to do? Do we want state sovereignty over education, as the constitution says the legislature is responsible. Do we want state sovereignty over education or do we want the federal government?  I want state sovereignty over education. That’s my first objection.”

Reinbold says the Common Core standards are  expensive and  unproven, and that the federal standards are moving too fast.  “I care deeply about education,” she says.