March 28, 2014

Summary of Connecticut Legislative Events Thus Far

Back in February, House Republicans managed to get a formal hearing on Common Core scheduled, finally giving the public the opportunity to share their opinions on Common Core and the associated testing and teacher evaluations. It was scheduled for March 12th.

HB 5078, the bill that prompted the hearing, requires most significantly, that:
The Department of Education shall conduct a study on the impact of implementing the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments on school districts in the state. The department, in conducting such study, shall

(1) investigate how the state-wide implementation of such standards will affect

(A) student learning and student academic achievement,
(B) the administration of the mastery examination, pursuant to section 10-14n of the general statutes, and student performance on such examination,
(C) state and local costs, including the costs associated with the creation of technology infrastructure necessary for implementing the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments, and
(D) teacher performance evaluations and teacher improvement and remediation plans,
(2) analyze, using the items described in subparagraphs (A) to (D), inclusive, of subdivision (1) of this section, the implementation of such standards in those school districts that have commenced implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments,

(3) analyze and compare the effect on student learning and student academic achievement in states that have begun implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments...

The day before the hearing, Governor Malloy issued a press release saying that he "signed an executive order creating the Educators’ Common Core Implementation Taskforce – a group that will be comprised of teachers, parents and administrators with the goal of identifying challenges and gaps in Common Core preparation, and making recommendations on improving the quality and consistency of its implementation."

At the hearing on March 12th, which went well over twelve hours, dozens and dozens of people testified. It was disappointing however, that as the night wore on, people were not granted their full three minutes to speak; the timer in my own case cut me off at one minute 50 seconds, which I did not realize until I returned home and found myself on the video to show my family. My lottery ticket had me speaking after midnight, so one can imagine my frustration in not being allowed my full time after over twelve hours of waiting for my turn.

On March 20th The Hartford Courant reported that no vote has been raised on HB 5078, but nevertheless, Republicans are apparently not giving up:
Ranking Republican members of the committee, Sen. Toni Boucher and Rep. Tim Ackert, said... that they hope to collaborate with all committee members to come up with an acceptable version of the proposed bill... But if the bill dies in committee, said Boucher, she expects its supporters might take another route, perhaps attaching an amendment to another bill at some point in the legislative process. "I can bet there might be some amendments that would be floated," Boucher said. "There is such a strong sense of concern and feedback from the general public. I could see some amendments put out. I think it would be wiser to sit down and actually craft a bill that would take care of some of the people's concerns...

Asked whether the bill would be raised in the education committee, the committee's co-chair, Sen. Andrea Stillman, said: "I can't give you an answer yet. We're still screening [bills] …"

Ackert said he thinks it would be a disservice to the public not to have legislators vote on some version of the bill. "How often do we have a 13-hour … debate and conversation and we don't allow the members to have a vote on it? Are we not allowing our members to vote for something that we as a group sat for 13 hours to deliberate on?... If they decide not to raise it," Ackert said of the committee's leaders, "I can't promise … that someone's not going to come out with an amendment."

Both Republicans said they would prefer to have the matter raised as a bill in the education committee and that they are open to revisions that could be substantial. If that does not happen, the Republicans can attempt to amend a bill in the committee, as well as on the House and Senate floors. "Any member can add an amendment any time," Ackert said. "Until the end of the session on May 7, we can continue to push this issue."

On March 25th, Malloy's Task Force met for the first time.
East Hartford Superintendent Nate Quesnel, a co-chairman of the task force, was quick to address recent criticism of Common Core — and just as quick to move past it.

"There is one thing we are not going to focus on, and that is the validity of the adoption of Common Core," Quesnel said. "The words caution, the words 'make sure we get this right' — those are the right words. But we are not here to dispute the adoption of Common Core. That isn't what this committee is for."

Quesnel acknowledged the controversy, as well as parental concerns about the Common Core standards that were expressed at the March 12 public hearing.

But, he said, "I think there's a lot of concerns about adoption that have to do with misinformation and misunderstanding of what this actually is." He said he hopes the task force can alleviate that.

He also said halting implementation of Common Core now was not logistically possible.

"Pushing the pause button is something that legitimately is probably detrimental to our kids. You know, we've shifted textbooks… we've shifted entire curriculums," Quesnel said. "We're not halfway through the river; we're three-quarters of the way through the river."

This is consistent with the press release that Malloy issued, since it clearly said that the group was charged with "the goal of identifying challenges and gaps in Common Core preparation, and making recommendations on improving the quality and consistency of its implementation." The name of the group, after all, is Educators’ Common Core Implementation Taskforce.

The next meeting of the Implementation Taskforce is on April 9th. It is to meet every two weeks and hand in a report in June. Meetings are open to the public, but public comments are not at all welcome.

And in the meantime, we continue to speak to our CT legislators and let them know how we feel about this. And hope that they will get some legislation passed to halt this, or at the very least slow it down for closer examination. And to opt-out our children from the testing, which at the moment is the most direct way we can protest Common Core.

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