Rhode Island Parents Petition School District to Opt Out of Common Core

Where states are failing to repeal the controversial Common Core standards, many parents have decided to take matters into their own hands and petition their local school districts to drop the nationalized standards and replace them with others of their choosing.

In Rhode Island, Smithfield parent Rema Tomka has organized a group of other local concerned parents who have joined a larger anti-Common Core group called “Collapse the Core.” Tomka and her group have signed almost 200 people to a petition calling for their school district to opt out of the Common Core standards.

The petition reads as follows:

We, the undersigned taxpayers of Smithfield, Rhode Island, demand that the Smithfield School Committee as the legally elected local education authority:

    • Vote to eliminate use of the Common Core State Standards in the Town of Smithfield, Rhode Island. 
    • Vote to adopt/develop new and stronger standards in ELA and math for the district by the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
    • Authorize the superintendent and teaching staff in ELA and math to use as working blueprints for new standards the free ELA standards written by Sandra Stotsky and posted on her University of Arkansas webpage (based on the former Massachusetts ELA standards) and a set of math standards chosen by the high school mathematics staff from the following: Minnesota, California 1997, Indiana 2006, or Massachusetts 2000.
    • Vote to direct the superintendent, all school administrators, and all teachers to adjust their K-12 curriculum to address the new standards for the 2014-2015 school year.
    • Once new standards are developed and adopted, vote to refuse to administer any Common Core-aligned state tests on the grounds that they are incompatible with the locally adopted or approved standards and curriculum.

Signatories: The taxpayers or residents of Smithfield, Rhode Island.

The group’s petition has received the attention of local school officials, says The Valley Breeze, and School Committee Chairman Richard Iannitelli has scheduled a discussion about Common Core for the committee’s meeting on Monday.

In addition, Tomka, a homeschooling parent, and two other vocal Common Core opponents – all registered as Independents – are among ten individuals who have declared their intent to run for three open School Committee seats in November. Daniel Snowman, a physics professor at Rhode Island College and a classroom teacher for over 20 years, and Jennifer Blanchette are also running for the School Committee.

“We would like to end the use of the Common Core State Standards and replace them with standards that will result in students who are critical thinkers,” Tomka told Breitbart News, “and not just students who are deemed ‘college and career ready’ based on their standardized test scores and adherence to standards which are written and copyrighted by private corporate entities.” 

“We’re pursuing this method of change because that is how a government of the people, for the people, and by the people works – from the bottom up – something that is often overlooked in this era of federal mandates,” Tomka continued. “We’re hoping that the citizens of the Town of Smithfield can work together with our locally elected School Committee so that an education obtained in the Town of Smithfield schools reflects the values and priorities of the citizens of our town.”

“Our petition is the big news in Rhode Island right now – I don't know of anything else that is going on,” Tomka said. “If we can't work from the bottom up I'm not sure what other options we have. There is no way that Gov. Chafee and Commissioner Gist will get rid of Common Core.”

Tomka said that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block's official position on Common Core is that he is still studying the issue, but she believes he will not hesitate to repeal it if it doesn't offer the best education for Rhode Islanders.

“I spoke with [Block’s] policy manager, and I believe he is sincere,” Tomka said. “If we can get him into office, we have a shot at eliminating Common Core on the state level.”

Because of her opposition to Common Core, Tomka has chosen to homeschool her three children. She asserts the elementary school reading list has removed many classic books such as the Amelia Bedelia and Encyclopedia Brown series, which were published prior to 2009, and replaced them with informational texts.

“It doesn’t foster that ‘I want to go out and read, I want to go out and learn, this is fun’” attitude, Tomka said.

Additionally, she said Common Core has dramatically changed the way math is taught in public schools.

“It’s a major overhaul,” she said. “Two plus two equals five is an acceptable answer if you can explain it. It’s about knowing the reasoning, not knowing the answer.”

School Committee Chairman Iannitelli, however, told the Valley Breeze that, during a prior discussion in March, teachers who are supportive of Common Core put many parents at ease during the meeting. He added that good education starts with quality teachers, involved parents, and kids who are interested in learning.

Iannitelli said that the Common Core standards do not change the curriculum, adding that classic literature by Mark Twain and William Shakespeare will be supplemented by non-fiction reading, such as technical journals and contracts.

Nevertheless, Smithfield, with 282 members, has the largest Facebook presence of the Rhode Island Collapse the Core groups.

The Common Core standards are a federally promoted education initiative introduced in the Obama administration's 2009 stimulus bill through a competitive grant program called Race to the Top (RttT). States could apply and compete for federal grant money as long as they adopted a set of uniform standards and aligned curricula and testing that allow for a greater role of government in education, student data collection, and teacher evaluations based on student performance on assessments aligned with the standards.

Rhode Island received a $75 million Race to the Top grant after it agreed to adopt the common standards.

The Common Core standards were developed by three private organizations in Washington, D.C.: the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and progressive education company Achieve Inc. All three organizations were privately funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and none of these groups are accountable to parents, teachers, students, or taxpayers.

There is no official information about who selected the individuals to write the Common Core standards. In addition, none of the writers of the math and English Language Arts standards have ever taught math, English, or reading at the K-12 level. In addition, the Standards Development Work Groups did not include any members who were high school English and mathematics teachers, English professors, scientists, engineers, parents, state legislators, early childhood educators, and state or local school board members.

At least 34 states now have had some form of legislation raised against the standards themselves, the aligned testing, or the associated student data collection.

The two multi-state test consortia funded by the U.S. Department of Education – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) – that are developing assessments based on the Common Core standards have dwindled significantly in their membership. PARCC is down possibly to nine states, and SBAC now has less than 20.


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