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Pasco 9/12 group opposes shift to Common Core academic standards

WESLEY CHAPEL - Even as Pasco County schools prepare to implement Common Core State Standards, a backlash is emerging among a group of residents concerned about what they view as a federal takeover of education.
“They want everyone teaching the same thing at the same time across the country,” said Dave Miller, a member of the Pasco Chapter of Tampa 9/12. “They are turning teachers into robots.”
His group, which bills itself as a conservative, nonpartisan organization, invited Pasco schools Superintendent Kurt Browning and Cynthia Armstrong, chairwoman of the Pasco school board, to a Monday night meeting to hear the group’s views.
“Basically, the overriding concern is it’s a federal program marketed as a state-led program,” Miller said.
Proponents of Common Core State Standards say the goal is to ensure that children receive the best possible education, regardless of where they live in the United States.
Florida has an aggressive timeline for implementing the new academic standards, which initially apply just to math and English classes. They are to be fully in place for all grades, kindergarten through 12th, by the 2014-15 school year.
Traditionally, each state has had its own set of academic standards, and expectations differed. What a student needed to know to graduate from high school in Florida wasn’t necessarily the same as what a student needed to know to earn a diploma in Pennsylvania or Wyoming.
So far, 45 states, along with the District of Columbia, have signed on to participate in Common Core. The holdouts are Virginia, Texas, Alaska, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Common Core State Standards are designed to bring consistency from state to state, create more equal access to a quality education and prepare students to compete with their counterparts throughout the world.
That sounds good on the surface, say skeptics such as Miller, but he’s been researching Common Core and doesn’t like what he’s finding.
He is especially worried about student data that will be collected and who could have access to it. He also has concerns that when history is added, students could be introduced to a version that represents the “progressive agenda” rather than an “accurate portrayal.”
Armstrong said she and Browning were happy to listen to what members of the group had to say, but pointed out that any solutions lay more with officials at the state and national levels. School boards must use whatever academic standards the state decides.
“We want to be aware of their concerns, but they are not concerns we can address at the local level,” she said Tuesday.
As for her own view, Armstrong said she likes that Common Core is designed to require critical thinking and problem solving, and will push students to perform at a higher level.
“It’s going to increase the rigor of what students need to learn,” she said.
Browning said he told the group he supports Common Core. He also said that while he respected their views, he was shocked by some of what he heard.
“They were concerned that Common Core was part of some bigger plan to capture the minds of our children,” Browning said. “I don’t subscribe to that.”
Although critics decry Common Core as a federal takeover, proponents argue it was a state-based initiative, with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers leading the way, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website.
Support crosses party lines. President Barack Obama favors the movement, as does Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Education Excellence. A mixture of red and blue states signed on to participate, though critics say that was at least in part because the federal government tied Race to the Top funding to participation.
The national PTA is a supporter of Common Core, as are the American Federation of Teachers and the Gates Foundation.
Bit by bit, though, opposition has emerged across the country among people who prefer more state autonomy and question whether Common Core represents too much federal intrusion into what children learn.
“It’s going to be taking a lot of control away not just from the school board, but from parents and teachers and the state school board,” said Bonnie Dickason, organizer of the Pasco Chapter of Tampa 9/12.
Opponents also say that Common Core will dictate a one-size-fits-all approach to education.
“Not every student learns the same way,” Dickason said.
Dickason does not have children in Pasco schools, but said she recognizes today’s students become tomorrow’s leaders.
“These students are going to be the future of our country,” Dickason said. “It concerns me what they are going to be learning.”

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