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Hultgren: Common Core threatens local control

Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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Our education system in Illinois is in peril.

We all have seen the numbers: Hundreds of Illinois schools are failing, more and more high schoolers drop out before graduation, and our students are falling further behind the world, especially in science and math.

As all of us in Illinois grapple with these alarming developments, we must do everything we can to make sure our kids are ready for college and the workforce.

One proposed solution is the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning standards in English language arts and math that would replace any previous K-12 standards.

In 2010, the Illinois Board of Education joined the now more than 45 states in adopting the Common Core, and it plans to complete implementation by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

Additionally, Illinois will adopt a new set of standardized tests as part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which creates student assessments that align with the Common Core. Starting next year, students’ test scores will be compared against the other states using the Common Core as the national benchmark.

There have been all sorts of attempts to address our education problems – from “new math” to standardized testing to charter schools to Goals 2000 to No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top – through the enticement of federal funding, pushing the Common Core.

Since local principals brought this issue to my attention earlier this year, I’ve been on a fact-finding mission to find out if the Common Core is right for Illinois or whether we should push the pause button as other states have.

As co-chair of the House National Labs and Science Caucus, I actively support raising the bar for science, technology, engineering and math education. I wanted to find out if these standards could improve STEM education and help our students become competitive in the world again.

In July, I traveled to Springfield to meet with Chris Koch, state superintendent of education, who explained the difficulties he faces implementing the Common Core.

Last month, I hosted a summit at McHenry County College, bringing together educators, administrators, thought leaders and parents to dig deep into the Common Core issue.

Supporters of the Common Core made a good case that standards are a necessary tool to guide and track student progress. How can we know what teachers are teaching and how well students are doing without methods of holding them accountable?

But throughout the discussion, the veneer of Common Core as a miracle solution to our educational problems wore off.

First off, some estimates put the total cost of implementation to Illinois, including teacher training, new books and materials, and computer technology, in the area above $700 million over seven years.

This is simply unaffordable for our state.

And there’s little evidence these standards and assessments will keep Illinois competitive. Make no doubt about it, we want to be No. 1. We want to take what other states have done and improve on it, not stifle educational innovation. A top-down mandated approach will force schools to teach to the test, not the subject.

While China makes good test takers, we want to make the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

Above all, this set of standards and tests threatens the control of local communities and parents over their children’s education.

While states and local districts should be free to choose whatever standards they want, there is growing concern that the Common Core open up local school districts to federal intrusion.

And whenever the federal government gets involved in local affairs, watch out.

This past month I met with Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, whose state Legislature pushed the pause button on the Common Core for a year to step back and assess whether this is the best path for his state. He also intends to withdraw from the associated testing.

On July 19, I joined the U.S. House of Representatives in passing HR 5, the Student Success Act, which limits the secretary of education’s authority and halts federal overreach into the classroom.

But together we must do more. I urge you please contact the State Board of Education and let them know how you feel about the Common Core. Let them and your state representatives and senators know of your questions and concerns. Educate yourself about Common Core and what it would mean for your child’s classroom.

No discussion about education should be held without the involvement of parents and the community.

With your help, we can ensure parents and teachers – not government bureaucrats – have the ultimate say in education.

• Randy Hultgren, a Republican, represents Illinois’ 14th U.S. Congressional District.

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