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Divided Alton School Board rejects Common Core

ALTON — The School Board last night rejected the Common Core State Standards Initiative by a three-to-two vote, but apart from thumbing their noses at the federal government and state Department of Education and reaffirming their belief in local control of schools, the impact of their decision remains obscure.

Terri Noyes, vice-chairman of the board, Krista Argiropolis and Carlos Martinez voted to reject Common Core, while chairman Sandy Wyatt and Stephen Miller favored adopting the new program.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is being put forth by the U.S. Department of Education and a consortium of states and was adopted by the New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) three years ago, sets standards for measuring mastery of math and English language arts/literacy curriculum at each grade level that emphasize critical thinking and problem solving and are meant to better prepare students for success. New Hampshire is one of 45 states which has adopted the Common Core standards which are being incorporated into classroom teaching in advance of new nationwide assessment tests which students are scheduled to take in the spring of 2015.

"We showed that our community has real concerns," declared State Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton), who is married to Martinez, after the vote. As for the practical implications of the vote, she said "who knows?"

Noting that officials of the New Hampshire Department of Education could not answer basic questions about the program, Cormier claimed "they're making it up as they go along" and asked "why should we adopt something when we don't have all the answers?"

Opening the discussion on the issue, Carol Locke, speaking as an Alton resident and principal of Gilmanton School, began by correcting claims that a third of the teachers in Gilmanton left the school rather than teach to the Common Core standards, which were made at a board meeting. In fact, she said only three teachers left, two for teaching positions closer to their homes and a librarian who retired.

Suggestions that teachers reacted against Common Core, Locke insisted "are simply not true," adding "they really don't have concerns." The program is designed to raise standards, she continued. "It's not a bad thing to bring our education up to a higher standard."
Richard Kirby, who teaches sixth grade English and mathematics at Alton Central School, told the board that the Alton Teachers Association welcomes Common Core. "It offers new challenges to students to become problem solvers, critical thinker and technologically literate," he said. "It raises the bar for grade levels and individuals."

Denying the federal government has a legitimate role in elementary and secondary education, Cormier urged the board to "stay true to local education. Parents know best what is good for their children. Local committees know best," she said. She warned against what she called the "propaganda" of expecting all students to perform to the same standards. "Nobody is the same," she said. Likewise, she insisted "we don't learn through assessments."

"Common Core is a big mistake," Cormier declared. "I hope we have some backbone here tonight."

Locke countered that Cormier misrepresented the program. "Assessment is just a tool," she said, explaining that it does not displace learning in the classroom. Moreover, she reminded the board that Common Core is "not that different from the state standards we have now."

Voicing the state motto "live free or die," a woman asked "why would we want to take federal money? Once you let the government in," she continued, "you can't get rid of it. It gets bigger and bigger."

"There's a lot more to it than just what happens in the classroom," said Cormier, who said that the program includes "data mining," which invades the privacy of "pre-schoolers to 20-year-olds. It's a mammoth step towards federalizing the curriculum."

Superintendent William Lander assured the board that "there is no mining of data" and the privacy of students is protected by both federal and state statutes. Expressing his support for Common Core, he said that much time and effort had been invested in designing the curriculum to fit the program, which he would not want to see undone.

Nevertheless, Cormier struck a chord with Noyes who said "I have a fear of losing local control, a large fear. I don't want the federal government telling us how many kids we can have in a classroom."
Argiropolis sounded the same note, charging that "the DOE is eroding local control with all this top-down stuff."

Miller said that he was "fully in favor of Common Core" and wondered why few have spoken against it.

"I won't vote for Common Core," Martinez interrupted, snapping "how's that for taking a stand?"

Miller pointed out that it has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. "We can't develop a standard to compete with Common Core," he said, asking "what will happen if Prospect Mountain applies Common Core? Will that create a remedial situation?"

"This is not a political issue," Miller remarked. "It's an education issue." He said that students at Alton Central School performed below the state average on standardized tests and stressed "in as much as standards are being raised, we have to keep pace."

After the meeting Kirby said that despite the vote of the board, beginning in 2015 his students will have to take the new test — the Smarter Balanced Assessment — which is formatted to measure their progress against the Common Core standards.

 
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