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Howard County parent arrested at Common Core forum, becomes cause celebre

An Ellicott City father has become a cause celebre among opponents of the new Common Core academic standards, after his arrest last week at a public education forum in Towson.

Robert Small, 46, was among the parents gathered at an informational forum organized by the state department of education about the Common Core, new math and reading standards for K-12 that have been adopted by Maryland and 44 other states, as well as the District of Columbia.

The format of the event, one of several that are being held around the state, called for the public to submit written questions which would be answered during the forum by state and local education officials.

But Small interrupted Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance during the session and complained the new standards were weak and were preparing students for community colleges instead of elite universities.

Dance told Small that his questions would be answered, but Small continued to talk. A security guard, who was an off-duty Baltimore County police officer, confronted Small and showed him a badge. A video of the encounter showed the officer saying “Let’s go, let’s go”, with Small refusing to budge. As the officer grabbed his arm and pulled him to an aisle, he shouted to the other parents, “Don’t stand for this. You’re sitting here like cattle! If you have questions, you have to confront them.” As he was being pulled to an exit, he shouted, “I’m a parent, I have a right to speak! Is this America?!”

Small, the father of a second-grader and a sixth-grader, was handcuffed, taken to the Towson precinct and charged with second-degree assault of a police officer and disturbing a school operation. Small’s wife said Monday the couple is not responding to interview requests on the advice of their attorney.

The American Principles Project, a nonprofit conservative organization that has been running a national campaign against the standards, circulated the video and said it was shocked that Small was arrested.

Created by governors and state education officials in both parties and largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Common Core standards aim to create consistency in what students learn from kindergarten through 12th grade. Academic standards vary widely among states, and that patchwork nature has been partly blamed for mediocre rankings of U.S. students in international comparisons.

The Common Core standards do not dictate curriculum. Rather, states decide what to teach and how to prepare children for standardized tests based on Common Core. But they spell out the body of knowledge so that for the first time, a third-grader in Maine would learn the same skills as a third-grader in Hawaii.

But the standards have sparked pushback from critics on the left, who are opposed to standardized testing and some of whom think the standards are too weak, as well as opponents on the right, who see the standards as a federal takeover of education.

Tea party activists have been particularly active in trying to kill the Common Core, dubbing it “Obamacore” and persuading lawmakers in a handful of states to halt implementation or strip funding for the standards.

Critics say the Common Core was thrust onto schools with little public debate. The standards were developed by associations representing governors and school chiefs, underwritten by private funding and propelled by the Obama administration using federal grant money as an inducement. Then they were approved by education boards rather than state legislatures.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland department of education, said the state is moving ahead with implementation this year. The department plans to host another information session for the public next week in Prince George’s County and does not intend to change the format of requiring written questions from the audience, Reinhard said.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.



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