As school districts implement rigorous new national learning standards — and deal with lower statewide test scores, as a result — they’re confronting an unexpected backlash from parents.

About 130 people attended a forum on the new Common Core learning standards Oct. 28 at Eureka High School. Eureka educators had Susie Morrison of the Illinois State Board of Education address misconceptions about the new standards, launched by the National Governors Association in 2009.

“It’s become a hot-button political issue in some communities, including ours,” said Bob Gold, superintendent of Eureka Community Unit School District 140, on Thursday.

Administrators from Morton School District 309 had what was described as a “spirited” discussion about Common Core standards with members of Morton 9-12 Tea Party this summer.

A leader of the anti-Common Core movement, Shane Vander Hart of Des Moines, Iowa, will speak at a forum sponsored by Illinois Citizens for Better Education from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Gateway Building.

Rachel Snow, an organizer, described Illinois Citizens for Better Education as parents and other residents throughout central Illinois who don’t believe Common Core learning standards are in children’s best interests.

In some circles, Common Core is called “Obamacore” with the negative connotation critics of the health care reform law associate with “Obamacare.”

Learning standards, or what teachers are expected to teach and students expected to learn, varied widely from state to state. After No Child Left Behind went into effect, some states dumbed down standards to assure schools made adequate yearly progress. In Illinois, the goals students were expected to reach in grade school didn’t align with goals they were expected to reach in high school, which accounted for a disconnect in test scores.

The common core standards are intended to create a consistent, uniform set of standards in math and language arts.

The backlash against Common Core coincides with the Illinois State Board of Education’s decision to raise the bar to pass the 2012-13 ISAT, or Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, in anticipation of full implementation of Common Core by the 2014-15 school year. As a result, scores among the state’s third-through-eighth-graders plunged.

The overall percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards in 2012-13 dropped to 61.9 percent, compared to 82.1 percent in 2011-12. Only 62 of 863 school districts met progress benchmarks under No Child Left Behind, compared to 152 the previous year.

The state board also launched a new version of the online school report cards Thursday at www.illinoisreportcard.com.

Vander Hart writes for Truth in American Education and American Principles in Action. He identifies with Tea Party principles, he said, though the anti-Common Core movement is more diverse.

His goal is to repeal Common Core, or at least revise it.

To him, Common Core represents a loss of local control and, potentially, a loss of student privacy. He is worried about how the results of new assessments related to Common Core will be used, as well as the costs of implementing new standards and tests.

Many states adopted Common Core in conjunction with applying for federal Race to the Top grants, he said.
Though advocates like to say Common Core was initiated by the states, it’s unlikely states would’ve adopted the new learning standards without the possibility of receiving Race to the Top funds, he added.

“If they’re not necessarily violating the law, they’re stomping all over the line.”