A discussion of Common Core standards brought out supporters and opponents of the concept during a recent Cape Henlopen school board meeting.
Whitney Neal, director of grassroots for FreedomWorks Inc. in Washington, D.C., gave a PowerPoint presentation on the creation of the national standards, outlining ways the federally backed Common Core standards limit local school board decisions.
Neal, a former teacher from Texas, was invited by board member Sandi Minard to speak to the board about the federal initiative that seeks to align education standards across the country.
"Mandating these standards without proving how they'll work is different," she said.
Delaware was one of the first states to win a competitive Race to the Top grant, securing $119 million in funding. Along with it, however, Delaware educators agreed to accept a set of national standards in English and math that students will be expected to know.
The problem, Neal said, is that Delaware and other states signed up for Race to the Top funding before they knew what the standards would be.
"They were approving something they had never seen," she said.
In addition, Neal said, concerns have been raised about the amount of student information schools and the government collect and to whom they give that information. Neal and other opponents refer to this as data mining, a process of collecting information on students led by inBloom, a Bill and Melinda Gates-backed company, as well as the Rupert Murdoch companies Amplify and Wireless Generation.
Ultimately, Neal said these companies would collect up to 400 points of information on every student and track them from kindergarten to high school and later through college and the workforce. School districts eventually will be required to foot the bill for this data collection, she said.
"A lot of this goes to the loss of local control," she said.
Minard pointed out a University of Delaware survey circulated annually throughout Delaware public school classrooms as an example of data collection already taking place.
"They are collecting data on our children. Do we want a mistake our fifth-grader makes to decide a job in the future?" Minard said. "Should we create a questionnaire to ask our administrators how many times they drink, how many times they've cheated on their spouse?"
Speaking in favor of the Common Core standards, Rehoboth Elementary School teacher Kristin Gray said she believes the opportunity to share teaching ideas through collaboration with teachers across the country will benefit education overall.
"So the effort was funded partially by Bill and Melinda Gates and Race to the Top was a government funded initiative … who cares? I parallel this to going to a hospital. Do I want the most knowledgeable and researched doctor available to me? Yes. Do I care who funded the hospital or paid for the doctors' education? I would argue no."
Maria Evans of Lewes said she was concerned with the number of people at the meeting who did not live in the Cape Henlopen school district.
"These people have no skin in the game. They don't have children here. They don't pay taxes here," she said, referring to about two-dozen supporters who came to hear Neal's presentation. "I am here to oppose the polarization of our school board meetings."
School board member Sara Wilkinson said she supports Common Core standards as a tool that will help teachers do their job.
"I haven't heard anyone say anything about the betterment of instruction," she said. "We have improved how we teach kids, how we reach kids."
School board member Jen Burton said she sees how collaboration and discussion in the classroom have benefited her children.
"To me, as a mother, I loved the way my son talked about how he got the answer – that's critical thinking. When I see that, I believe in the Common Core standards. I believe our teachers are teaching these kids," she said.
As for concerns about data collection, Burton said, "If in the future we find out data tracking isn't working for us, we're going to do something about it."
In May, Minard introduced a resolution calling on the governor, state legislature and Delaware State School Board to withdraw completely from the Common Core standards.
Her resolution died on the table June 13 for lack of a second.
Still, Minard said she is concerned Race to the Top funding will dry up and leave the district with a hefty bill.
"I brought this resolution to the table because we needed to open up debate and know all the players of the game," she said. "We are losing Race to the Top funding, so I'd like to know how we're going to maintain when we no longer have the funding."