January 4, 2014 10:10:07 PM
JACKSON -- On Facebook and in public forums, opponents have been trying over the past year to build opposition to the Common Core state education standards in Mississippi. As the Legislature begins its 2014 session Tuesday, they're bringing that opposition to the Capitol.
Starting with a rally Tuesday morning on the Capitol steps, those who say the new academic standards pose a threat will demand lawmakers end Mississippi's participation. It's far from certain they will succeed, though, as key lawmakers continue to signal support.
Common Core started as an effort to reach agreement across states about what students should learn. At the end of the effort, 45 states including Mississippi signed on, and even some opponents agree they're stronger than what Mississippi had before. Proponents say that when fully implemented, students will learn to think more analytically and learn less by memorization.
Opponents, though, say the standards and accompanying testing represent a federal takeover of education. They also say Common Core is academically flawed and the use of testing data could violate student privacy.
Laura Vice, of Agricola, said she pulled her first-grader out of George County public schools this fall and began teaching her at home after becoming alarmed at her daughter's homework.
"You could see that the assignments were focused on writing out thoughts and not worksheets, and that's a lot for a 6-year-old," said Vice, a nurse who started a Facebook group, GC Parents Against Common Core.
Vice said school officials ignored her concerns.
"Why do we have to completely change the way things have to be done?" Vice asked. "Why do we have to create this culture of overthinking everything? Personally, I think that's what's wrong with the government now."
Other parents say they don't see anything wrong with Common Core. Kreg Overstreet, an engineer in Wiggins, defended the standards at an October meeting of the Stone County Board of Education.
"I had not noticed anything objectionable or anything that was out of the ordinary, so to speak," Overstreet said of his two daughters' homework. Both attend Stone County Middle School.
Overstreet said he trusts school administrators and said some of the opposition is making a "boogeyman" of Common Core. "I think it's pure, through-and-through politics and it has nothing to do with the well-being of our state," he said.
Opponents largely echo criticisms made elsewhere, including that the standards call for Algebra I to be taught to high school freshmen, which could make it difficult for students to take calculus before they graduate.
Today, few Mississippi high school students take calculus. The Mississippi Department of Education reports that of 29,000 high school seniors, only 1,000 students took the subject in 2012-13.
But Hill said Mississippi should aim even higher. "We'd like to get rid of Common Core, of course, and replace them with standards that are better than Common Core," she said.
Besides the standards, there are also attacks on the multistate testing consortium that Mississippi has joined, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
The tests are meant to be entirely computerized, meaning students as young as third grade must be able to type. There's also concern about whether districts will have enough computers or fast enough Internet connections.
At least six states have left PARCC or the other main testing consortium, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Opponents say they might attack PARCC if they can't force Mississippi to entirely abandon Common Core. For example, it might be possible to amend the budget to bar spending on the tests.
The federal government has subsidized the development of tests by the two main groups, which alarms those suspicious of federal intrusion. Opponents also fear that student data from the tests will be shared too freely with outside groups.
So far, the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees are supporting Common Core. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant issued an executive order banning federal interference in Mississippi education, but not blocking Common Core implementation. House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said there could be a bill that would simply codify that ban, but he's against pulling out, saying the transition is too advanced and opposition amounts to "political hysteria."
"I don't see anything happening with that," Moore said. "The transition is too far down the line. We have a lot of districts that have been working on Common Core for three years."