It’s a Wednesday evening at a Maumelle community center, and Karen Lamoreaux is explaining to a crowd of parents — I think it’s well over 100, but I’m guessing — why she and the rest of her group are devoting a significant part of their lives to fighting the Common Core State Standards.
That’s the new set of frameworks guiding how students in 45 states are being educated in math and in English language arts. Originally, it was an initiative of the National Governors Association and the group that represents the nation’s state education commissioners.
Arkansas adopted the standards in 2010 through a vote by the State Board of Education and has been incorporating the standards since then. Some students in Arkansas and other states will take a pilot test this year. Then next school year, all Arkansas students will be tested.
The Common Core has the support of much of the education establishment. In fact, it has the support of much of the establishment. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and President Obama, who can’t agree on much of anything else, both support it, as does the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Arkansas’ various education associations as well as the state’s education reform groups – often on opposite sides – are pro-Common Core as well.
Supporters say public schools need some consistency across state lines. They say students need to be compared accurately with each other and their international competitors, who’ve been beating the socks off us for a long time. The Common Core, they say, is better and more rigorous than what we had before, and it will better prepare students for college, the work force, and the global economy.
For close to two hours, Lamoreaux explained why she and the rest of her group, Arkansas Against Common Core, disagree. For decades, she said, local control of schools has been gradually eroded. The Common Core, far from being a states-led initiative, is part of a takeover of American education by the federal government; by the Gates Foundation; by corporations; by Pearson, an education services provider heavily involved in Common Core; and by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The standards, she said, are less rigorous than the previous state frameworks, and they involve far too much data collection of students.
Lamoreaux and Grace Lewis, a nurse and mother from Rose Bud who started the group, became concerned about the Common Core because they didn’t like how their children were being taught. They estimate that the group’s primary members have done 1,500 hours’ worth of research. Lamoreaux spent 14 hours preparing for her presentation.
“I cannot go to my grave without feeling like I did everything in my power to stop this,” she told me in an interview.
Unless something changes, Common Core will provide the framework under which Arkansas students will learn. A lot of smart people are for it. The state and schools have spent more than three years and untold dollars making the transition. Putting the brakes on this train would be pretty disruptive. And clearly, what we were doing before wasn’t working.
However, the group, despite its small size and lack of resources, is having an impact. It has about 2,500 followers and is making public presentations several times a month. As others across the nation have raised concerns, Common Core supporters have been placed somewhat on the defensive. Some states are pulling out of the tests. The Republican National Committee, which passes a lot of things, has passed an anti-Common Core resolution.
Whether or not you agree with Arkansas Against Common Core, there are lessons to be learned. If you really want to make a difference, you can’t just complain. You have to do your research, and then you have to work. You have to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. One person really can start something, but ultimately, one can’t go it alone.
That’s how a couple of moms and a few of their allies are making their voices heard in a democracy. With or without the Common Core, more of that should be taught in schools.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.