When U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan came to Chula Vista on September 13, the fanfare at Castle Park Middle School was spectacular. Oversized pictures of Duncan’s face were waved on sticks while students wearing “Believe the Hype” T-shirts chanted success slogans.
But a small group of protesters outside the event wasn’t pleased.
Also on September 13, the state legislature passed AB 484; the same state tests being celebrated by the Castle Park school will be passé as California switches to “Common Core State Standards.” (AB 484 paved the way for California to transition to Common Core State Standards in that the bill delays for a year the new round of testing based on the new standards.)
The new standards will require new texts and/or materials, new rounds of training, new tests, new infrastructure, and new computers because, ultimately, the testing will be given on computers. The taxpayers will likely not get off easy.
Although the Common Core State Standards have been adopted in 45 states, opposition is building: Georgia, Oklahoma, Utah, and Pennsylvania are choosing to opt out of implementation. Those who oppose the education reform have been depicted as “tea-partiers,” but the women who demonstrated at Arne Duncan’s South Bay visit were diverse.
Kristin Phatak told the Reader, “It’s a non-partisan issue; I’m a registered Democrat. We are a mixed group of people here — conservative, liberal, non-political. We are teachers, nurses, and professionals.”
Phatak continued, “I’m a mom who has been researching Common Core State Standards for a year. I’m probably one of the early moms in Chula Vista who did it because it was piloted in my son’s school, Salt Creek Elementary.” (Salt Creek is in the Chula Vista Elementary school district.)
“Unbeknownst to us parents, we started seeing this work coming home with our kids and that’s how we found out. I have a graduate degree, my husband has a graduate degree, we are both English speakers. When we saw this homework coming home and we couldn’t even help our child with it , we said — what is this?
“For example, what this district did for math was…my son had to show a problem four different ways, model it visually, model it on a quilt, model it on a number line, and one other way. The additional emphasis is on word problems; they must explain their work in writing….
“It’s terribly ironic,” Phatak continued, “here’s Arne Duncan speaking in this [U.S. Department of Education] Promise Neighborhood with a very high Hispanic population… These standards could harm the population; the one subject that these children might have great success in as second-language learners is math. Math is a universal language, and now they’re taking that success away from them by demanding they read and respond to word problems.”
Phatak’s group of protesters made two presentations to the Chula Vista Elementary School District trustees, on August 14 and September 11. “We felt that we were really dismissed by the board,” Phatak said.
“On September 11, I presented to the Chula Vista [Elementary School District] board the education code language that says this must be local decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards. I had already spoken to a person in the California education department about it — the [Chula Vista] board never went through that process to allow the public to comment on cost, standards, data collection.”
Lina, another member of the group demonstrating at Castle Park on the day Duncan passed through, pointed to a 2010 statement by Duncan’s aide in the Harvard Business Review that states: “…the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.”
In a September 18 interview, Anthony Millican, communications officer for the Chula Vista Elementary School District, said that the district has a great deal of parental support for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. He confirmed that “there will be a lot of tech demands” and that the state has allocated to the district $4.6 million to help with expenses, including professional development.
It is unclear if the funding comes from Proposition 30, the tax-increase measure that passed last November, to mitigate loss of state funding for schools.
Millican also said that the Common Core State Standards “were put together by business leaders, university professors, educators” and that the shift in education will be from “drill and kill to critical thinking.”
He avers that this latest educational reform will be “more about the learning and less about the test score.”
Kindergarteners and first-graders will be receiving report cards this year based on the Common Core State Standards.