New Attack on Common Core From Pennsylvania Democrats

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 14, 2013 3 min read
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Upset about what they see as the “sham” the Common Core State Standards will become without adequate funding to support it, a group of Pennsylvania Democratic state senators are claiming that the new standards will only bring misery, in the form of greatly damaged graduation rates, if major changes aren’t made.

The claims were made in a May 13 press release by six Pennsylvania Democrats, including the ranking Democrat on the the Senate Education Committee, as well as the top Democrat in the Senate (which is controlled by the GOP). The lawmakers also claim that the common core has “no legislative oversight” and demand a full legislative review of what the standards are and what the state education department will expect under the standards. In the first line of their statement, they make a partisan play by calling the standards a $300 million “unfunded education mandate” for districts that is being “quietly pursued by the Corbett administration,” a reference to GOP Gov. Tom Corbett. They note that Corbett’s decision to slash $900 million two years ago from the state’s K-12 budget has only made matters worse.

In addition, the senators say the testing regime under the common core will be “particularly devastating to fiscally challenged schools,” and claim that the new assessments will suck time out of traditional instruction.

“We are not opposed to the implementation of common core standards for Pennsylvania’s students,” said Sen. Andrew Dinniman, the party’s top member on the education committee. “But we are opposed to common core standards without adequate state financial resources for our schools so that all of our students have the opportunity to succeed under those standards, including those in financially distressed school districts.”

This kind of attack on the standards, in the cosmos of common core concerns, is relatively unusual, and it comes from Democrats to boot. There’s a certain echo here of what American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a speech last month. Weingarten said she was concerned about the lack of support and professional development teachers have been receiving as they transition to the common core. (This anxiety led her to call for a moratorium on attaching high stakes to the common-core assessments.) She also criticized the Obama administration for providing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the tests, but none specifically for professional development geared to the standards.

The Pennsylvania senators get more specific about the potential costs, and voice the additional concern about the standards’ impacts on students and their ability to graduate. They also enter into more abstract, potentially more politically loaded territory when they say state legislators lack all the information they need about the common core.

On what they say is a related issue, one of the legislators, Sen. Jim Brewster, has introduced a bill (Senate Bill 823) that would require a new state commission to either significantly change or scrap Pennsylvania’s student testing procedures. The state testing system has come under a cloud recently during a cheating investigation.

Estimates about common core’s implementation costs vary. One study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (which support the common core) pegged the dollar amount in Pennsylvania at $128 million for a “bare bones” version, $220 million for a “balanced” approach, and $543 million with a “business as usual” approach to education spending in the state. But the anti-common-core Pioneer Institute estimates $250 million in costs for Pennsylvania for professional development alone.

It’s also worth noting that Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis, a common core supporter, is apparently leaving his position. “I’m confident we are going forward with the implementation of Pennsylvania Common Core Standards,” he told The Patriot-News, also on May 13.

The senators make clear that they are not opposed the standards themselves. But they clearly have serious concerns about common core’s status quo in the state, and their opposition as elected Democrats is certainly worth marking down.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.