Critics from Both Sides of Aisle Find Common Ground About Common Core

John Mooney, Founding Editor | September 12, 2013 | Education
Republican, Democrat both urge NJ to go slowly on tougher standards and testing, but Christie administration proceeds with implementation

Protesters at event for U.S Senate candidate Steve Lonegan.
New Jersey’s decision to implement the national Common Core State Standards and to move on the new exams that are part of the package has never lacked critics, but it hasn’t met with much outright resistance.

Until now.

While still very much a minority voice, a collection of strange bedfellows is increasingly speaking up against New Jersey’s adoption of the new, more rigorous standards and testing.

Yesterday, it was Steve Lonegan, the conservative Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, who held a press conference in front of the state Department of Education to decry the federal-backed standards as another power grab by Washington.

While outnumbered by journalists, Lonegan was nonetheless joined by a half-dozen other conservative and Tea Party activists.

“No one-size-fits-all model will serve these children, nor will it serve our nation,” Lonegan said. “We should not allow the federal government to take over our children’s lives.”

But questions are also coming from more liberal voices, too, as a bill is expected to unveiled today by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) calls for a task force to study the new standards and testing and to delay their imposition until the task force’s work is completed.

“I’m not saying it’s entirely the wrong path, but it does affect how we educate our children,” Van Drew said last night. “”I’ve heard from enough corners that I want to ensure we at least take another look at this.”

Meanwhile, the new president of the New Jersey Education Association said he also is worried about the new testing, which is scheduled to start in 2014-15.

“I’m worried about the alignment,” said Wendell Steinhauer, who started this month as president of the state’s largest teachers union. “There is nothing wrong with having the standards, but it’s the implementation of it.”

Some critics say the Common Core and the accompanying exams are the latest example of over-testing of students, and they worry that they are being imposed too rapidly and could have a negative impact on students and teachers.

The Education Law Center, the Newark-based group that has led the Abbott v. Burke school equity litigation, has been among the most vocal critics of beginning the new testing next year.

Backlash to the Common Core has surfaced in Georgia, Indiana and Pennsylvania, where some political leaders seeking to limit the use of the new testing and in a few other states where foes are seeking outright repeal of the new standards.

Nonetheless, New Jersey is moving forward on implementing the standards and testing, with the State Board of Education hearing testimony yesterday from the Christie administration about the new field testing planned this spring.

Close to 1,000 New Jersey schools have been asked to participate in the field testing, which was developed under the auspices of a national consortium of 20 states known as the Partnership for the Readiness of College and Careers, or PARCC.

“It has been a phenomenal and exhausting summer in the development of PARCC,” Bari Erlichson, the assistant education commissioner overseeing the effort, told the board yesterday.

“We have sent invitations to schools to participate, and the response to our outreach has been very positive,” she said. “The schools do want to participate in this.”

New Jersey is one of 45 states on board, joined the initiative three years ago. The standards are also a condition of receiving federal funding under the Race to the Top grant competition. State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf has been an enthusiastic supporter, including serving as a member of the PARCC executive committee.

Cerf took some time at the state board meeting yesterday to shoot back at critics, saying that the state remains deliberative in the process even as it moves ahead.

“This enterprise presents enormous opportunity for politicking and myth-making and dis-information, and a lot of it has become a point in the current election cycle,” Cerf said. “But it is important to note that we are stepping into this gently, with field testing and sharing of information.

“There are those worried about cost, worried about time and generally concerned about tests,” he continued. “But I want to assure the board that all of these thoughts are being carefully considered.”

Nonetheless, Lonegan said he and others hope to persuade Christie and Cerf to at least slow down.

“I think the governor is open to listening,” said Lonegan, who was endorsed by Christie last month. “The governor supports me, and I support him, but we differ on some issues, and I plan to work hard to persuade him on this issue.”

Van Drew, in an interview last night, said he appreciated the irony of being aligned with a conservative like Lonegan on this issue.

“I get a kick out of that,” he said. “It’s what makes our country great, doesn’t it?”