As Maryland moves ahead with school reform and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, state officials are facing growing resistance among teachers, lawmakers and others who are concerned that too much change is being forced onto schools too soon.
The issue in Maryland has become political. In the next legislative session, House Republicans plan to push for the state to withdraw from the Common Core initiative; and Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful, has said the Core is too costly and gives too much control over Maryland classrooms to national testing organizations, my colleague John Wagner reported here.
The Core standards were adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia in recent years, though a number of states are reconsidering their participation as opposition has grown, not only from Republicans but from the left and the middle as well, though for different reasons. Even Core supporters have expressed concern that states are rushing implementation. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore City Democrat and former teacher, was quoted by The Baltimore Sun as comparing reform implementation in the state to the Obama administration’s botched Affordable Care Act Web site rollout: “If we don’t do this right,” he said, the state may have “a bad image on a great concept.”
State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery is being increasingly challenged by teachers and lawmakers about her strong reform push even as Maryland just took over fiscal responsibilities for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCSS), one of two multi-state consortia that — with some $350 million in federal funds — promised to develop standardized tests aligned with the Core. Florida was the original fiscal agent for PARCC, but it just dropped out of the consortium amid growing opposition to the standards initiative in that state. Lowery said in a statement:
Maryland is strongly committed to the success of PARCC, as demonstrated by our willingness to take on the role of fiscal agent on behalf of all the PARCC states. The PARCC assessments will help support Maryland students, allowing educators to measure student learning facilitated through the Maryland College-Ready and Career-Ready Standards compared to other states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards.
(Actually, the new assessments, which were supposed to be able to assess student learning more deeply than current standardized tests, won’t be as game-changing as promised. PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium haven’t had enough time or money to develop them, which you can read about here.)
But there are growing numbers of people in Maryland who think Lowery is simultaneously pushing three major reforms — a new teacher evaluation system linked in part to standardized test scores, the Core standards, and new assessment tests — and doing so too quickly to do them well. This year teachers around the state are required to teach to the Common Core standards
In recent weeks:
*State lawmakers peppered Lowery with questions about the Core last week after teachers and parents complained about the implementation of reform, The Baltimore Sun reported in this story.
* Last week a new grass-roots movement against Common Core staged their first protests in Baltimore and other counties, including Charles, Howard and Carroll, the Examiner reported. Scores of people turned up in front of the Maryland Department of Education headquarters in Baltimore and other locations in the state to protest.
*The Teachers Association of Baltimore County recently filed a grievance on behalf of the county’s 8,700 teachers saying that they are being forced to work hours beyond their normal day because of changes related to implementing the Common Core standards and the new teacher evaluation system — which uses standardized test scores in part to determine the effectiveness of a teacher (despite warnings from assessment experts who say this is not a reliable and valid way to do so).
Teachers in the county and the rest of the state have had to adapt their teaching this school year to new, more rigorous standards known as the Common Core. Local school districts were expected to have written a curriculum — a detailed road map of lessons — based on the new standards, but the county fell behind in the elementary grades.
The county teachers have complained that they’ve been working long hours because the lesson plans have not been available until just weeks before they are to be taught and the website to access those lessons has been difficult to use.
*A new informal online survey of teachers by the Maryland State Education Association, a teachers union representing some 70,000 teachers and support personnel, showed that two-thirds reported feeling unprepared to fully teach to the Core standards, and nine out of 10 said there remain serious challenges to the proper implementation of the new teacher evaluation system.
Lowery has already shown some flexibility by giving districts more time to implement the new teacher evaluation system, but that hasn’t satisfied critics.
“If we are doing this for student achievement, we should have been more strategic about how we rolled out this implementation,” said Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association.