Forecaster Forum: Connecting the dots in public education

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Most people aren’t fans of No Child Left Behind or federal government intervention in public education. Often one hears that NCLB had caused “teaching to the test” and narrowing of the curriculum. Strangely, the state government is poised to enact national testing, and the public is oddly silent on this huge transformation in public education.

Maine is considering the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. These will replace our current state standards and once again, change the testing in Maine’s public schools. There is no doubt that our standards need improvement. They received a C grade from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. The point is that local school boards and the state are free to improve upon our state standards, without signing onto the Common Core State Standards. Massachusetts has some of the best state standards. They are free to the public for any state to adopt.

Initially, I was in favor of the Common Core State Standards, until I started connecting the dots.

The federal government is making it clear that the adoption of the state standards is a state initiative. But is it really? The U.S. Department of Education tied Race to the Top federal money to the adoption of the CCSS. And then there is the “nationalizing of testing” to come in 2014. Suddenly, states like Maine are passing legislation to request that parents provide the schools with their child’s Social Security number.

There are clear benefits to collecting data and analyzing it, but do we risk having our children’s testing data attached to their Social Security number? Will this data be used to track individual teacher performance? Will “nationalized testing” cause an explosion of teaching to the test? Is a nationalized curriculum in other subjects around the corner? Will parents need to go to the federal government with concerns about curriculum, instead of to their local school board? Will home-schoolers and private schools need to adhere to nationalized testing if they take government funding? What will the long-term cost of the transition to national standards be? Who is writing these national exams?

The adoption of the CCSS made headlines in Massachusetts because many felt it was a mistake. Gov. Patrick didn’t reappoint state board members who planned to vote against the adoption of the CCSS. Some states have made it clear that they will not adopt the standards. What do they know that we don’t?

For those of you who love to compare the U.S. to Canada, take a look at their education system. Few know how well they outperform us on international testing. The 2006 PISA mathematics testing results have Canada ranked fifth out of 57, while the U.S. ranked 32nd. In 2006, Canada ranked third in Science, while the U.S. ranked 24th.

Canada must spend more than us on education, right? No, they spend less. They must have “nationalized” education like their health care? No again. While the U.S. has seen decades of increasing federal intervention and control of education policy, the federal government in Canada has essentially no role in K-12 education. Control of public education is left to the individual provinces. Many provinces have a publicly supported private school system (including vouchers for religious and private schools that adhere to the provincial curriculum).

Before Maine adopts the Common Core State Standards, the public should ask if there are safeguards in place to prevent increased national control of public education.

The public has until Sept. 10 to share their views on Maine’s adoption of these standards. I encourage parents to contact your state legislators, including the governor, to discuss this issue with them. Ask our gubernatorial candidates about their position on the issue.

Public comments regarding the Common Core State Standards can be submitted by e-mail to the Department of Education at or

Beth Schultz lives in Woolwich and is co-founder of the Maine Coalition for World Class Math.