Concerns over Common Core are reflected in the emails sent to and from State Superintendent Janet Barresi, and to and from Marsha Thompson, assistant state superintendent of instruction, from May 1 through June 30. Educators, parents and citizens weighed in with their views. State officials shared emails and articles from other groups and political leaders.
Oklahoma Watch obtained the emails in an Open Records Act request in an effort to gauge feedback over the standards and the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s responses.
Here is a summary of some of the messages:
In an email sent to Barresi on May 13, Dan Parrish, then superintendent of Weleetka Public Schools, asked whether the state would keep Common Core and raised concerns about the testing associated with the new standards. Parrish compared the implementation of Common Core to his experience with Outcome-Based Education methods in the early 1990s. In his email, he pointed out that “we put a lot of effort into OBE” only to see it go away.
Barresi provided a detailed response, saying, “As you know, the standards are simply statements about what children should know and be able to do per subject and per grade. The curriculum to teach the standards should be developed by the teachers at the site and confirmed by their board of education.” She said that only Common Core standards in math and English were being implemented, and she had led the effort to develop the state’s own standards in social studies and science.
“We will continue on in subsequent subjects like world languages and art in future years. Collectively ALL of the standards our children will be exposed to are called the Oklahoma Academic standards,” Barresi wrote. “So in answer to question #1, no, they are not going away.”
Parrish, who retired after the 2012-2013 school year, said in an interview with Oklahoma Watch that he does not feel teachers have been given enough time or training to properly implement the new standards. “In my 37 years of experience, we are moving way too fast,” he said.
He also cited difficulties with testing last year, saying that computer servers got overloaded when students tried to take the required tests. Weleetka Public Schools has five high-speed “T1” lines that should have provided enough bandwidth to handle the testing.
The current Weleetka Public Schools superintendent, Chris Carter, said in an interview he is also apprehensive about the new standards, but worries that so much time and money has been invested in the new standards that repealing them could cause additional problems.
Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, echoed that view, saying it would take just as much time and money to abandon Common Core as it has taken so far to implement it.
--An email dated May 9 from a Vian teacher was addressed to those who approved Common Core. The teacher cited how she had helped a student with a moderate disability move from writing a simple paragraph to writing a four-paragraph essay with a thesis. This “phenomenal” accomplishment required intensive one-on-one instruction. But new demands on teachers, with no additional pay, were taking a toll. “I can tell you that I am reaching the level of burnout,” the teacher wrote. “The legislators and the State Department of Education need to realize what they are so close to losing.”
--Twenty-three residents, at least some of them teachers, sent copies of a letter to Barresi over weeks in May and June expressing support for Common Core but noting reservations about associated high-stakes testing and saying teachers had not been given adequate training.
“I am very concerned that the CCSS are being imposed on teachers without the resources, time and training students and teachers need to succeed,” the letter said. “And I am also troubled that, once again, the focus will be on testing instead of teaching.”
The letter called for a moratorium on the high-stakes testing to focus on implementation first.
Other emails sent to Barresi cited concerns about the federal government overstepping its authority, privacy concerns relating to data collection, complaints that parents are not fully informed about the new standards, and claims that the standards are Marxist in origin, or a plot by the New World Order.
An example is a letter from a couple who described themselves as conservative. “By researching Common Core Education, you will discover that Common Core Education is a Marxist trap to take control of our precious children and their future within the Agenda 21, New World Order … We must stop this now! Please keep our children's education local within Oklahoma.”