MARTINSBURG - Growing concerns about West Virginia's version of Common Core educational standards have prompted some citizens - including a longterm legislator - to look into them even deeper, more than a year's worth of research that resulted in an informal organization dedicated to fighting it.
These opponents - all members of the Constitutional Advocates group that meets regularly in St. Marys, W.Va., now also part of West Virginians Against Common Core - are not only interested in educating others at the grassroots level, they also hope it isn't too late to make a difference when it comes to state political and educational leaders too.
Ultimately, they'd like to see a moratorium placed on it until further studies can be done on the new standards and objectives - perhaps resulting in state leaders deciding to opt out of it all together, not unlike action being considered in other places, group members maintain.
That's because they object to most things about the state's version, known as Next Generation, including the lack of any legislative oversight or involvement in its adoption in 2010 as well as the timing of its being endorsed by non-elected state Board of Education members.
They question how much teachers were involved in this standard-setting process and would like for parents to also have been informed as this decision was being considered.
But that's only the beginning.
Opponents see this reform as part of an attempt to nationalize the educational system and claim it is illegal for the federal government to be involved in education this way.
There are also the costs associated with making this change (45 states and the District of Columbia have already adopted these standards or their own version of it) to be considered, they say, as well as potential threats to student privacy rights and how data collected on them will be used.
And then there's something else motivating these folks, perhaps the most important reason of all, said Wood County resident and anti-Common Core activist David Flinn.
"Basically we are parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who are just worried about the future of all children," said Flinn, a 72-year-old great-grandfather who regularly shares his fears with other family members, since he serves as a kind of informal researcher for the opposition group.
"Our goal for more than a year now has been to do thorough research to ferret out the truth, and report it to people before it is too late. The truth is there for anybody who wants to see it. We will be glad to sit down with anybody and share the findings of our research efforts."
At this point, Flinn said he and other group members are concerned about related issues including student assessments, curriculum and instructional materials.
Flinn also has little good to say about former Gov. Joe Manchin and then-state superintendent of schools Steven Paine, who combined forces to "bring this monster to our state under the light of darkness because they knew it would not withstand public scrutiny, and the light of objective analysis and truth."
He's no less critical of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other legislators who "continue to deny the real situation, the backlash that's out there in the state" because of the newly implemented standards.
Fellow activist Angie Summers agrees that the Common Core approach has not yet been proven effective nationally, and she also can't understand why West Virginia officials - elected politicians as well as professionals within the state Department of Education - refuse to even acknowledge concerns about it being used to educate state students.
She is concerned not only about the standards, but "associated tests, the massive expansion and access to the student database and the untold associated costs that will filter down to counties and their citizens."
There have been some successes, including anti-Common Core resolutions which have been passed by the West Virginia Farm Bureau, West Virginia Grange and the state executive committee for the West Virginia Republican Party, Summers said.
After reading an Aug. 7 article in The Journal quoting Tomblin's remarks about primarily seeing anti-Common Core reactions at national governors' meetings, Summers sent him a letter challenging these statements and also extending an invitation to the group's upcoming town hall meeting featuring Sandra Stotsky.
It will be held 6 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Courtyard Marriott in Bridgeport, W.Va., a date and location that was chosen to coincide with legislators' interim meetings, she said.
MEANWHILE, IN CHARLESTON
Veteran legislator Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, who was originally appointed to the House of Delegates in 1985 by former Gov. Arch Moore, has been doing her part in Charleston to educate her peers and gain support for additional time to study the new standards.
It's a collaborative effort, especially since WVACCC members sent Tomblin a proposal requesting a two-year moratorium on student assessments while statewide public hearings could be held.
"I'd like to see us do what other states are doing by going back to study this issue again, and have a moratorium in place until the Legislature knows what Common Core is all about," she said.
Additionally, Boley and Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, introduced legislation opposing Common Core standards during this year's session. While the Senate passed a bill that would have allowed for the moratorium, she said it was unsuccessful in the House.
"I still remember the blank stares I got from the other Republican senators when I first asked them what they thought about Common Core. Knowing about it is important, because that's when you realize just how much of this is aimed at taking away state control in our educational system," said Boley, who serves on the Education Committee.
She also disapproved of other earlier federal initiatives, including No Child Left Behind, which ultimately proved to be unpopular in many quarters and amounted to the "dangling of financial incentives to states."
To date, however, her requests to personally meet with Tomblin to discuss the issue have been unsuccessful, she said.
She remains unconvinced that this is the best way to educate state students, stressing that youth in various states have different needs and shouldn't be treated in a "one size fits all" fashion.
"All children are not common," Boley said, adding that she also worries about students being put on career paths too early instead of allowing them to be children.
No stranger to these kinds of criticisms, state Department of Education Interim Associate Superintendent Clayton Burch is also interested in getting the message out about Common Core and how it has been implemented statewide for math and English language arts.
"At the end of the day, even though we do have some tensions over our 'Common Core' standards, the bottom line is that it has been fully implemented and our counties are moving ahead with it without a problem. But that's not to say it is always well understood, either," said Burch.
"For example, I hear people use the term Common Core curriculum and that's absolutely not correct, because it is standards and objectives. So, as soon as someone uses that term, we have a problem," he said.
Burch, who normally serves as executive director for the Office of Early Learning, said he also understands that "some people are still divided" about who created the new standards and why.
"It's also a shame that folks don't give credit to the Council of Chief State School Officers, basically state superintendents, along with the National Governors Association, but all of the sudden it has suddenly fallen on the Department of Education somehow," he said.
Despite some confusion, it's never wrong for parents to ask questions about their children's education as well as how they can be best involved in it, Burch said.
"We do want people to understand that curriculum is still at the local level. I also think this is an opportunity to understand what this policy allows us to do, as well as what we have to do. And once people really understand how much local control there still is, I think that will make a positive difference," he said.
The state has always had standards, so that part isn't different, Burch said.
He said the new standards don't dictate what is taught, but rather where students are expected to be at a certain point in their educational progress or grade level.
"These are just some that a lot of state school officers and governors have agreed need to be aligned and look alike. The choices that have to be made involve how they are going to be taught, or what the materials look like that teachers will be using in their classrooms - which is solely in local hands," he said.
"Now is the perfect time to highlight just how much local control there is in West Virginia, and how local educators are going to have a large say in implementing these new standards," Burch said.
Hedgesville High alumnus Saira Blair, a May graduate who is now entering her freshman year at West Virginia University, said she knows a little about the new standards from her limited exposure, but not as much as younger students who've had more experience with them.
However, as the Republican nominee for the 59th Delegate District, she has stronger opinions and worries that there's too much federal involvement in school districts.
New standards and teaching methods may not only be a problem for students, Blair said, but also teachers who've been on the job longer and may find it harder to adapt - comments that she's already heard from some parents who are confused by them, especially when it comes to helping their children with math homework.
There was a similar response on The Journal's Facebook page when local parents were asked to comment on the Common Core standards. The majority of them criticized the new policy.
"It's hard enough to get kids to do homework! Now with 15 extra steps this is stupid. What was wrong with the old ways? Einstein never had a problem with it," wrote Lisa Tolson Campbell.
"It's not fun," agreed Jaclyn Evans. "As someone who's going to be affected by it, and also has a brother who is younger and going into it, it makes me want to cry. The standards for things and what they want are so off. I want to graduate and get out of this system."