Common Core PA State House Hearing

This is a follow up to our October Scranton Independent Gazette article, “Common Core: friend or foe?”

On May 14, 2013, a Pennsylvania State House hearing on the Common Core Standards was held, with only proponents being heard. The following day, opponents and proponents had the opportunity to make their cases. State proponents for implementation of the state iteration of the standards were Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq, Joan Benso; President and Chief Executive Officer, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children; and David Patti, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Business Council. The opponents were Neil McClusky,Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute; Joy Pullman, Research Fellow, Education, The Heartland Institute; and Cheryl E. Boise, Director of the Commonwealth Education Organization. One vocal opposition group present was Stop PA Common Core, comprised of concerned parents from throughout the state. An interview was conducted at the event with one of the heads of the group, Michele Jansen. The video interview can be found on the Independent Gazette’s YouTube channel, WBIndependentGazette: Will your kids be harmed by proposed “Common Core” curriculum standards?

Senators Folmer (R), Dinniman (D), and Teplitz (D) led the questioning during the May 15 hearing. Dinniman remarked that he spoke on behalf of the Democratic Caucus, stating that they were calling for a pause on the standards until sufficient review by the Senate and House. He spoke out against attaching the Common Core Standards to graduation requirements, and was concerned that they posed a significant unfunded mandate that would burden the state’s educational sector on top of cuts that were already in place. He requested a fiscal analysis before moving forward, because at the point of the hearings a fiscal note had not yet been produced.

In her testimony to the Senate committee, Secretary Dumaresq stated that the opposition’s concern was with the federal version of Common Core and that Pennsylvania had already held hearings and had molded Common Core to be specific to the state, including the department objecting to the use of national tests. She went on to testify that the total current cost of implementation at that point was $200,000 for the exams and $3 million overall. She estimated future costs of up to $1 million per year.

Senator Dinniman stated that the IIRC questioned the state about the precise total costs and wasn’t given a clear answer and no fiscal note so far. Teplitz asserted that it was the state’s responsibility to institute education standards and that he felt the families of the children in the schools should be the ones engaged in Common Core-related discussions, and not the teachers.

At the conclusion of Dumaresq’s answers, she and her associates left the room without listening to their opposition’s statements. McClusky, of the Cato Institute, shared a brief history of the federal government’s involvement in education beginning in 1965, with the first state standards established nearly 30 years later in 1994. He also brought to light the fact that there hadn’t been any studies done on the effectiveness of the Common Core Standards nor did data exist to suggest that national standards—which a few countries had adopted by 2013—improve education. He stated that Pennsylvania would receive $10.3 million per year for three years due to implementation costs. He went on to claim that, in 2010, a list of “rewards” and “punishments” were created as incentives for adoption of the Common Core Standards.

Boise claimed that during discussions and building of the standards there was a lack of transparency, and that even the building being utilized for the public discussions was locked with a private access code. Pullman pointed out that through the standards, a database  was being created that held and stored various kinds of personal information. What was also highlighted was that Common Core’s scope extended from public to private to home school environments in a range from “Birth to Workforce.” In his closing statements, Senator Teplitz stated that he was uninformed on Common Core prior to the day’s hearing, but after testimony by proponents, he felt less inclined to vote in favor of the education standards. After many questions and statements throughout, all three senators appeared skeptical of the standards.

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