Activist discusses Common Core

Opposing Pennsylvania Common Core Standards is a war that won’t easily be won, conservative activist Peg Luksik of Johnstown told area residents.

Luksik said the national standards that the state has incorporated into its own are an underhanded way for the federal government to indoctrinate children and produce a compliant work force in specific career fields at the expense of providing opportunity and a love of learning for students.

Postcards to be filled out with complaints about the national standards and sent to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation vanished from tables at the Bavarian Hall within minutes after Luksik’s Thursday presentation hosted by the Blair County Council of the Federation of Republican Women.

Her audience of about 80 people included school board members, teachers, parents and a state legislator, Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona.

Luksik, a former educator, politician and federal Department of Education employee, condemned the standards on several fronts. She said that informational texts aligned to the standards include material that potentially promotes a federal government agenda to students, which includes preparing them to be “green” citizens, instilled with ideas of overpopulation and damaging use of fossil fuels.

Informational texts including menus, presidential directives and technical manuals are to fill up to 70 percent of required reading by grade 12.

Parents Mike and Rachel Binney of Ebensburg have multiple concerns about the standards as their children will enter second, fourth and sixth grades at Central Cambria School District next year when the standards are supposed to be fully implemented.

“What ‘informational texts’ are they going to give our kids to read?” asked Rachel Binney, a self-admitted conspiracy theorist concerned about a left-leaning political agenda.

Luksik also said the standards set the bar too low for students; for example, a minimum of Algebra 1 fulfills a student’s math requirement for graduation.

The state Department of Education has sought to emphasize that Pennsylvania’s version of Common Core standards are not identical to the national movement. The state has added to the standards but have not subtracted from them.

Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, said he is opposed to Pennsylvania Common Core Standards but said the state needs some kind of improvement to its existing standards.

“Performance of Pennsylvania schools has continued to slide. We spend $27 billion per year on K-12 education and people want results. And then when we do that [implement standards], school people don’t want accountability … and if we tie our standards to a national platform, it can go bad.”

Luksik said, “Teachers are in difficult positions because their jobs are on the line.”

Through a uniform database that the federal government required states to generate in order to apply for State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, teachers can be linked with individual student performance on Common Core standard assessments.

“Teacher certification, promotion and retention is based on compliance,” Luksik said. She urged teachers to be “batting rams,” in opposing the standards. “Make them fire you,” she said.

Luksik painted the related database as one of the most insidious mandates the federal government tied to the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund in 2009. A promise to implement college and career-ready standards, and assessments was also a requirement.

To receive State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, states had to agree to establish a longitudinal data system capable of tracking a student’s records through various grade and high schools.

One proponent of the standards, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, has negative opinions of the longitudinal data system.

“The data system is a large burden to school districts in terms of time and energy spent on reporting information,” PASA Executive Director Jim Buckheit said. But he believes it exists for some good reasons.

“If you are going to be successful in achieving the goal, [which he said is preparing students for four-year colleges and careers] you need to have data. Anecdotal evidence isn’t of much use in education,” he said. “You need high-quality data to inform policy changes.”

State standards and assessments have long been a requirement for states because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Pennsylvania had standards since 1999 in reading and math, and standards for 10 other subjects including social studies followed, Buckheit said.

After states adopted their own standards in accordance with NCLB, it became apparent that some states had high standards and some had low standards.

“Governors didn’t know where their states compared,” Buckheit said. “Their solution was the Common Core state standards.”

However, critics including Luksik dispute that the Common Core was a state-led effort.

The standards, adopted by 46 states, were formed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors associations. In Pennsylvania, the standards were adopted without legislative approval, initially by Gov. Ed Rendell and Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak, and then by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.

“State Legislature never had anything to do with this,” McGinnis, said.

McGinnis’ opinion of the standards is spelled out in its name.

“‘Common’ is reducing quality to the least common denominator and ‘core’ includes core values that should never be decided from the top down.”

Gov. Tom Corbett has put a temporary halt to Common Core implementation, but he’s recommended that schools continue rolling them out for the fall.

McGinnis agreed with Luksik, who said Corbett might agree to throw out the standards if constituents make it a priority. Gubernatorial primary elections are coming up in May 2014, and Common Core opponents are hoping Corbett is subject to political pressure.

“One way of stopping Common Core could be through an act of legislation,” McGinnis said.

He said the state Senate could likely get a bill through its education committee and land in the House where he believes there would be bipartisan support.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.