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Sellersburg standards feedback meeting is sparse

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz sat at a table with state board members and other education officials at meeting in Sellersburg in Southern Indiana as two speakers panned the state’s new academic standards as too much like Common Core and a third complained Indiana should have stuck with Common Core.

When the third person sat down, 20 minutes into a planned four-hour meeting, nobody else had signed up to speak. So Ritz and the others waited. And waited.

Finally, 20 minutes later, a school guidance counselor arrive and took to the mic, also in support of Common Core. Then another long wait.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening, that was the main pattern — bursts of comments for or against the proposed standards and soon-to-be-discarded Common Core, followed by stretches of waiting.

Common Core is a set of learning standards that Indiana and 45 other states agreed to follow. But since their adoption in 2010, push back has come from conservatives, who believe Common Core is inferior to Indiana’s prior standards or that they cede too much control over education to policymakers outside the state, and some liberals who believe Common Core further entrenches a testing-heavy school culture.

Monday was the first of three feedback meetings on the draft standards, completed last week by committees of educators and experts from around the state. The standard-setting process was sparked by the Indiana legislature, which last year “paused” implementation of Common Core and this year has advanced a bill that would void Common Core and require new standards by July 1.

While core supporters and activist opponents of Common Core are passionate about the standards question, there is evidence most Americans know little about them. A national poll released last week by an education reform advocacy group showed only 12 percent of those surveyed opposed Common Core but the vast majority — 58 percent — didn’t know what Common Core was.

At the meeting, those who did testify reflected the mixed feelings of those who do know about the standards.

One parent who testified said she examined 66 math computational standards and found 55 of them were identical to Common Core standards.

“You’re trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the teachers and the parents and it’s not working,” she said.

Meredith Payden, a parent, said she looked at the kindergarten and first grade standards and spotted some of the same concerns she had about Common Core. The first grade standards, she said, were so weak they paralleled what she felt a child in kindergarten should know.

“I continue to be concerned the new draft of Indiana state standards is just a rehash of Common Core,” she said. “We are taking more power away from parents at the local level and giving it to the federal government.”

On the other hand, some educators said they were exasperated with the backlash against Common Core.

“The frustration from our school, like many, is trying to understand what we are supposed to teach and more importantly how it will be assessed,” said Barbara Burke Fondren, director of a Montessori school in New Albany. “I don’t think we can separate those two worlds.”

Dylan Purlee, principal of Redding Elementary School in Seymour, said it would be best for the state’s children if Indiana stuck with the standards most of the country will follow.

“While we paused, who was left behind?” he said. “While we’re transitioning to these new standards in the future, who will be left behind?”

Tuesday’s meeting will be held at the state library, next to the Indiana Statehouse, from 3 to 7 p.m.

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