Approximately 70 local residents showed up to the Neosho High School’s auditorium Thursday evening to hear two perspectives on Common Core State Standards, education standards that are scheduled to be implemented in Missouri in 2014-2015.

Mary Byrne, of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, presented several of her concerns about the standards, while Neosho R-5 Superintendent Dan Decker explained the district’s role and touched on what those standards would mean for the students in Neosho.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website describes the Common Core State Standards as a state-led initiative intended to establish consistency in learning goals for all students.

Though, Byrne argued that the state had little to do with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, as it did not go before the state legislature.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed off on the state’s participation, and the standards were adopted in Missouri in 2010, according to Common Core’s website.

The standards are currently focused on mathematics and English, language arts, though science standards are also in the works, the speakers said.

Decker said with the implementation of Common Core, the students’ annual assessment tests would change, going from the MAPS test to the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Students will begin taking the new Common Core standardized tests in the spring of 2015, Decker said. 

“The knowledge that they had to have to score advanced in math under the MAPS test will only get them proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment,” Decker said. “And so, whether we 100 percent agree with it or not, or like it or not, we have to prepare our kids to be able to have success, because if we don’t, we’re going to fail them.”

Decker spoke Thursday night not so much in favor of the standards — he did not take a position — but explained that at the district level, without sacrificing federal funding, there isn’t much administrators can do about the new standards.

Byrne, meanwhile, pointed to several aspects of the Common Core standards that she found alarming.

Byrne noted a lack of local control by district and state school boards, the leveling of curriculum to one size fits all, and the state’s signing on without legislative approval as some of her key concerns with the standards.

“When I came up against Common Core I started looking at, ‘well, where’s the uniqueness in common?,’” Byrne said. “Whether it was on the extremes of low cognitive function or gifted, there are people with special needs and there are behaviors that manifest when needs aren’t met. What happens when we treat everybody the same?”

While some audience members suggested that Decker had “rolled over” in not denying Common Core standards in the district, event organizer Tanya Williams noted that the audience members’ concerns should be voiced at the state level, to local representatives in Jefferson City.

For the Neosho R-5 School District, that representation is state Rep. Bill Reiboldt and state Sen. Ron Richard.
Byrne also noted that Missouri state statute puts the control of curriculum in the hands of local school boards, giving the superintendent little control over the matter.

“The superintendent is contracted to the local school board, not DESE” Byrne said. “The state statute gives control of the curriculum to the local school board, not the superintendent. The school board is the one who makes the decisions about the risks you take as a community.”

Decker told parents that while the school district must prepare students with the lessons and skills they need for testing, they still have the power to incorporate that into the local curriculum. 

“The bottom line is, we do still have local control,” Decker said. “Now can that change? That can change tomorrow, just like everything else, but we do still have local control. We do have the opportunity to put whatever curriculum we want out, they haven’t taken that away from us or penalized us yet for that.”

An additional area of Common Core that Byrne expressed concerns with was the data collection and disbursement of that data.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Common Core of Data program collects fiscal and non-fiscal data about all public schools, districts and state education agencies in the United States.

Data is supplied by state education agency officials, and includes description of school districts, including descriptive information about students and staff.

Byrne said that the data collected through Common Core is leaving the hands of the educational agencies and going to third-party vendors.

Decker said school districts have been required to provide data for items such as federal programs and reduced lunches since 1989.

“It’s not brand new,” Decker said. “I think that they’re digging a little bit deeper, possibly, but we’ve had to provide data on income and all of those kinds of things, for free and reduced lunch, those have been there forever.”

Williams urged parents to join with she and her fellow organizers in asking questions and learning more about Common Core State Standards.

“It comes down to us as community members, if we like or dislike what is going on,” Williams said. “We need to be the ones that are vocal in seeking out the answers, asking the questions, and trying to get our kids and our district in a position that aligns with the way we’re thinking.”

Williams said the two areas the group of local parents is focusing on is privacy regarding data collection, with questions as to where that data is going, as well as if the district will lose local control over curriculum once the Common Core standards are fully laid out. 

“As of right now, we have control,” Williams said. “But as the tests are rolled out, as the new curriculums are developed, will our school district have that control? Right now we don’t have answers for that, either.”