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Does Maryland’s new governor want to hit ‘pause’ button on Common Core?

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Does the new Republican governor of Maryland want to revisit the state’s commitment to the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC Common Core test?

When Larry Hogan was running for governor of Maryland, he responded to questions about his position on school reform by saying that he believed in local control of education, and he characterized the implementation of reforms in the state as “a train wreck.” This is how he responded to some questions from the Capital News Service during the campaign:

1. Across the state, many teachers complain that their salaries have been insufficient or even frozen, despite an increased workload from recent education reforms. How will your budget proposals as governor allow for teachers to be compensated?
The recent roll out of education reforms in Maryland has been a train wreck and teachers have been asked to shoulder much of this burden. Better planning, more local input from teachers and parents, and more time to prepare the curriculum would have relieved much of this workload on teachers. I am concerned that all too often increases in education budgets go to administrators and bureaucracies rather than into the classroom.
 2. The Maryland State Department of Education and many of the local school boards disagree with the weight that student assessments should carry in teacher evaluations. How will you mitigate the conflict?
I err on the side of more local control of our education system. I believe that those who are in front of students every day understand best how to educate our children.

I asked Hogan spokeswoman Erin Montgomery whether Hogan planned to revisit the state’s decision to use PARCC and/or continue implementing the Common Core. This is what she wrote in an e-mail:

“Governor Hogan believes that we need to hit the ‘pause’ button on Common Core and give control back to teachers and parents.”

Asked to elaborate, she sent this:

“Improving our K-12 education system isn’t a one-time shot or part-time effort, but something that must be continually addressed. Evaluating the effectiveness of complex programs like Common Core and the method in which they are either improved or removed is part of that process, and is something that Governor Hogan will be doing throughout the entire course of his administration.”

Maryland schools have been implementing the Common Core State Standards for several years, and is a member of the Partnership for the Assessment of the Readiness for College and Career, one of two multi-state consortia created to design new assessments aligned to the Common Core with some $360 million in federal funds. In late 2013, Maryland took over from Florida in the role as “fiscal agent” for PARCC, meaning the state has the leading role in managing the finances of the consortium. Furthermore, thousands of students in Maryland began taking the PARCC officially last month, with the bulk of students expected to take the exams this spring.

Could Hogan pull the state out of PARCC at some point?

Hogan cannot act unilaterally. Maryland’s state superintendent, Lillian Lowery, is a supporter of the Core and PARCC. Asked about this issue, William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said in an e-mail:

We can’t speak for the Governor, so you’ll have to contact his office on his plans.  From our standpoint, Maryland’s college and career-ready standards have been in place in all of our schools for two years — three in many instances. Our efforts are focused on continuing this work.

In early 2014, most of the superintendents in the state signed a letter complaining about the rushed implementation of school reforms, including the Common Core standards and the PARCC exam.

In order to change the Core and PARCC in Maryland, Hogan would have to repopulate the state Board of Education with like-minded members. The board selects the state superintendent; Lowery’s term started on July 1, 2012, and is scheduled to end on June 30, 2016.

The Board of Education has 12 members. Two members’ terms expired in 2014, but Martin O’Malley, then Maryland’s governor, could not appoint their replacements after the primary election, so they are Hogan’s to fill. Three more members’ terms expire this year, so it won’t be long before Hogan has nearly half of the board seated with his appointments. State superintendents are selected on a simple majority vote.

If Maryland were eventually to pull out of PARCC, it would hardly be the first state to do so.

In 2010, PARCC had 26 member states, but it has suffered major defections since then, with fewer than a dozen states now committed to using the PARCC exam this year. Mississippi pulled out this month — deciding to allow the PARCC test to be given this year while a search began for a new exam for the next school year. Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest system in the country, recently decided to buck a state mandate to give the PARCC to all of its students this school year. This month, the superintendent of schools in the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka wrote a “warning” letter to the community about the PARCC exam, saying: “As we learn more about the assessment, we grow wary. We are concerned about the amount of instructional time it will displace, the impact this will have on students, and the usefulness of the results.”

The issue got particularly ugly in Louisiana, where a battle developed last year between the Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and his state superintendent of education. Jindal was once a supporter of the Common Core but changed his mind, and last June he tried to pull his state out of the Core initiative. The superintendent, John White, wanted to keep the Core standards in place, as did the state legislature. Jindal tried unsuccessfully to sue the state Board of Education over the issue.

The Hogan administration will have to recommit to the PARCC membership within five months, according to the consortium’s membership requirements. Here is the related rule:

What it will do at this point is unclear. Stay tuned.

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