CRYSTAL LAKE - The bubbling controversy over the Obama Administration's education program popped up in McHenry County Wednesday night at a Common Core Summit, hosted by Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-14).
"My goal tonight is for us to have a discussion of all aspects of the Common Core State Standards," Hultgren told the audience of 200. "In 2010, Illinois adopted the standards and plans to complete implementation by the end of the 2014-2015 school year."
And that's what Erin Raasch, the mother of a special needs child attending a public school, is concerned about. Raasch told the audience she first learned about the Common Core standards when she had a discussion with her child's teacher about his inability to spell and do grammar correctly.
"I was told that as soon as my son learned to use the computer in the next grade, that he would not need to learn to spell, he could use spellcheck," she said. Raasch's research into the federal program energized her to establish a website StopCommonCoreIllinois.org to make Illinois parents aware of how their schools are revamping their children's curriculum.
A revamping of Illinois' curriculum standards was badly needed, Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Mike Petrilli said. "After evaluating and comparing to other states, our organization gave Illinois' previous curriculum standards a "D" as in "dog," he told the audience. "Almost anything is better than what you had."
Petrilli disagreed that Common Core standards left out literature and promoted "fuzzy math." He said students heading for college should be prepared to read non-fiction and directions as well as fictional literature.
"Classics are included in the Common Core standards, and be reminded that the standards are minimal, the least a student should learn for their grade levels," he said.
The Common Core standards came from Washington DC as a top down approach rather than a local, bottoms-up approach that is better for teachers and students, Bob Bowdon, the Executive Director of Choice Media said.
"Federal funds were used to set up the consortium that developed these standards, so we know where they came from," the director and producer of "The Cartel" said.
While affirming Common Core, the Illinois Association of School Boards is firmly opposed to nationalized curriculum or standards, IASB's Ben Schwarm told the audience.
While IASB does see value in states providing curriculum standards and giving the teachers and students an aim for academic success, school boards that set up annual school budgets are very concerned about Common Core's unfunded mandates.
"We're concerned providing the needed computers to take Common Core assessments and implementing the re-training of teachers will be too much for our budgets," Schwarm said.
The IASB's concerns are valid, and taxpayers should be concerned, Erin Raasch said, when 60 percent of Illinois schools are functioning with a deficit. Raasch praised legislation recently introduced by Illinois State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) that called for the state to slow down implementation of Common Core until the federal program's costs and demands are more fully known.
Although neither voiced an opinion at the event, State Rep. Jack Franks (D-McHenry) and State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) were on hand to hear the discussion.
Congressman Hultgren is working on a similar approach to Kay's state legislation at the federal level, he said. He supports protecting state and local autonomy over decisions in the classroom by removing the Secretary of Education's authority to add new requirements to federal programs. He also wants to stop Common Core and "Race to the Top's" competitive grant program from being used to coerce states into adopting the Secretary's preferred policies. H.R. 5 (the Student Success Act) passed the U.S. House and is pending in the U.S. Senate.
The night's discussion was at times critical of both the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration's less than stellar education programs and both administration's apparent efforts to nationalize education standards.
"[President Bush's] No Child Left Behind program didn't reach its goals [to standardize curriculum]," Raasch said to the audience's applause, "And [President Obama's] Common Core curriculum is No Child Left Behind on steroids."