camelotAs children in Ohio head back to school, parents will hear more and more about Common Core. Students will bring home Common Core aligned textbooks, there will be talk of online testing and parents will fill out registration forms asking for data not previously required. All the while, parents will hear teachers and principals spouting the benefits of Common Core; but if you look closely at the educators’ expressions and listen carefully to their words, you will find that not all is right in the land of Common Core.

For one thing, the implementation of the standards has meant a huge financial outlay for school districts in the purchasing of new textbooks, computers and data systems, teacher training and establishing a teacher evaluation system. The federal government gave Ohio $400 million to implement the Common Core that was spread around the various school districts which applied for Race to the Top grants. The $400 million in no way represents the total cost of the implementation, however, especially considering that in most districts, the standards are not fully implemented. Evidence of the costs involved, both in man hours and fiscally, can be found in the Columbus Dispatch article, Race to the Top grants not worth costs, officials say. 80 Ohio districts and charter schools have pulled out of Race to the Top because the grants did not sufficiently cover the costs of implementation and the reporting requirements back to the federal government were far too onerous.

That some Ohio school districts pulled out of Race to the Top does not mean they are out of Common Core. It just means they are out of the reporting and implementation guidelines that were part of the grant fulfillment. No, these districts and virtually all Ohio districts, private schools, parochial schools and even home schoolers will end up with Common Core eventually because the system has been rigged that way. The Ohio state achievement tests and the ACT and SAT tests for college placement will be aligned with Common Core and it would be far too risky for educators not to comply with the new standards as their students may not perform well on these vital tests.

The Columbus Dispatch also mentions the new teacher evaluations that come with Common Core.  The performance evaluations have become a controversial issue within school districts because teachers will be graded in part on how well their students do on state achievement tests. As a result, teachers are incentivized to teach to the tests more than ever and students who can’t keep up may become a burden to teachers worried about their performance score. A formula for a more unhealthy teaching environment is hard to imagine.

The state of Ohio has contracted with the PARRC consortium to administer the state achievement tests. The tests will take place twice a year and will involve 8 hours of online testing for third grade, 9 hours for fourth and fifth grades and approximately 9 1/2 hours for middle and high school. That’s a lot of standardized testing for the little ones. And since all of the testing will occur on-line, it will require a significant investment in technology. The technology investment has to be a major concern for school districts most of which have been crying poor for decades.

The student’s performance on the PARRC tests and their performance in school in general will be maintained on a new student information system called Thinkgate. The Ohio Department of Education contracted with Thinkgate and strongly encourages all local school districts to install the Thinkgate system or make their current system compatible with it. Local school districts will share student performance and demographic data with the ODE leading to the concern parents have raised over student privacy. This issue is working its way through the state legislature, state education bureaucracy and local school districts. In the meantime, parents are to rest assured that student privacy is the education establishment’s chief concern and there is nothing to see here, so please move along.

So as Ohioans kiss their children good-bye and send them off to school, be aware that a new school year has begun. Not new in the past sense when new meant new school supplies, a new teacher and a new pair of shoes. No, new this year means a new way of teaching and learning and a new worry on the faces of parents, teachers and administrators who are going to wonder why they let the past slip away so quietly.