Common Core town hall meetings lack specific grievances, officials say
By Samuel Speciale, Charleston Gazette-Mail
Through three town hall meetings where members of the public could air their grievances with Common Core, criticism of West Virginia’s controversial math and English standards has so far only dealt in generalities.
The West Virginia Department of Education, which currently is facilitating a comprehensive review of its Common Core-based Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives through a series of regional meetings, has yet to be notified of problems with a specific education standard, something officials have explicitly called for.
When asked if the review has turned up any criticisms of individual standards, Sarah Stewart, the department’s directory of policy and government relations, simply said, “No.”
Despite the lack of specific feedback, Stewart indicated comments have been constructive and that the department’s website, where those who cannot attend the town halls can review the state’s 900 math and English standards, has generated considerable traffic.
“We’re encouraged by the discussions,” she said.
While department officials have said the process has brought to their attention issues surrounding the standards that may be addressed once the review is complete, it remains to be seen how the lack of specifics will affect the standards themselves, especially with the Republican-controlled Legislature’s looming threats to repeal them.
Pressed with concerns over a lack of actionable feedback, Stewart said the department and state school board would not have commissioned the review if they didn’t intend to take all comments seriously.
“I’m confident they’ll give serious consideration to whatever WVU recommends,” she said.
West Virginia University is partnering with the Department of Education by analyzing all comments gathered during the review. The university, with the aid of review committees, will then produce a report that will be used by the state school board to determine what, if any, action should be taken.
The need for such a review was prompted by the Legislature’s attempts to repeal West Virginia’s standards over their ties to Common Core, which is a set of grade-level expectations in math and English that make sure public school students get the same basic education.
Despite backlash from Republicans and conservative groups who say Common Core is a federal usurpation of local schools and the “dumbing down of America,” a position quite possibly fueled by President Barack Obama’s support of the standards, they have been deemed academically superior to those used in the past.
Department officials have said they hope their review will restore confidence in the standards and remove a need for future legislative intervention.
But some Republicans are intent on seeing the standards ousted, regardless of the review’s outcome.
Delegate Michel Moffatt, R-Putnam, who attended last night’s meeting as well as one in Huntington, told the Gazette-Mail repealing the standards is still on the Legislature’s agenda. He also has been critical of the review, going as far as suggesting it’s rigged to favor keeping the standards in West Virginia’s schools.
“We need more flexibility in our schools,” he said Thursday. “These standards aren’t what we need.”
The review’s commenting period will continue through the end of the month. So far turnout to the meetings has been declining. Officials said the town hall in Morgantown drew about 100 people and the event in Huntington drew 50 people. Thursday’s meeting in South Charleston attracted about 20.
Additional town hall meetings are scheduled to take place in Athens on Sept. 17, Mount Gay on Sept. 20, Wheeling on Sept. 22 and Shepherdstown on Sept. 29. All meetings will start at 6:30 p.m., except for those in Athens and Mount Gay, which will start at 5:30 p.m.
Each meeting will last 90 minutes and will open with a brief informational session. The remaining time will be dedicated to answering questions submitted by those in attendance. Questions must be submitted in writing at the start of the meeting.
Those that are not addressed will be posted with an answer on the review website within a few days.
For those who cannot attend a town hall meeting, comments may be submitted on the review website, which can be accessed by going to www.academicspotlight.statestandards.org.
At a previous town hall in Huntington, Stewart said all comments addressing specific standards will be used by review committees that will ultimately recommend what action, if any, the state school board should take.
The final recommendation is expected to be delivered to the board before its meeting in December.