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State board faces common core decision

The strength of Colorado’s Race to the Top bid will be in the hands of the State Board of Education Monday when it decides whether to adopt the Common Core Standards in language arts and math.

One board member, Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, has been campaigning for rejection of the standards, and at her request a public hearing will be held at 7:30 a.m. Monday before the board formally convenes  to hear a recommendation from education Commissioner Dwight Jones, discuss the issue and vote.

Rejection of the standards could trim points from Colorado’s R2T application.

While several state boards around the country have adopted the standards without controversy, Colorado’s vote is surrounded by a little more drama.

It’s tough to predict how the board will vote, given that one member is in favor, two are leaning against and three more say they haven’t made up their minds – or they aren’t showing their cards in advance of the meeting. One member hasn’t responded to a question about his position.

The meeting originally was scheduled as a teleconference. But, at least three members are expected to show up in person for the hearing and four for the vote.

At a July 21 board teleconference Jones praised the openness and care with which Colorado has reviewed the common standards but said a decision hadn’t been made on his recommendation. But it’s widely expected he will propose adoption.

The standards were developed under the leadership of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School officers, of which Jones is a member. State Department of Education officials were involved in the discussions and drafting that led to the common standards.

And, the state’s R2T application states, “Colorado also has embraced the rigorous Common Core Standards, which will be presented to the State Board of Education for adoption in August 2010.”

During that July 21 meeting, CDE officials and a consultant said the common standards are 90 percent aligned with the new state language arts and math standards adopted by the board last December and that the two sets are about equally rigorous.

Officials also indicated they believe taking parts of the common standards and adding them to the Colorado documents would constitute “adoption.” (More details on the common standards and the board’s July 21 meeting.) The position of the governors’ association is that the standards must be adopted in their entirety and that state’s can add 15 percent additional material.

Adoption of the common standards is worth 20 points in the 500-point scoring system for R2T grants. Earlier this week Colorado was named one of 19 finalists for round two of R2T.

All the finalists except Colorado and California have adopted the standards. California’s state board also will meet Monday to vote on adoption, which has been recommended by an advisory panel.

All 19 finalists scored more than 400 points each, although specific scores haven’t been released because they may change based on state delegations’ interviews the week of Aug. 9. Loss of points could put Colorado at a disadvantage.

Overall, 31 states have adopted the common standards, Iowa being the latest to do so on Thursday (see map). Florida’s board unanimously adopted the standards on Tuesday. It’s predicted that as many as 40 states could adopt. Alaska and Texas declined to participate in the common standards project.

Littleton has been trying to rally opposition to the common standards based on the argument that they’re part of a creeping federalization of K-12 education, echoing concerns by some other conservatives around the country.

“Colorado has put together a good reform plan without Race to the Top,” Littleton said in her statement. “The [Race to the Top] application should include a ‘meets or exceeds’ box for us to check for the standards, because our state’s new standards, that were just adopted after an 18 month long process which was clear and transparent and included citizen input from all over the state of Colorado, and are at least as rigorous as the proposed Common Core, and without the risk of undermining our freedom and local control.”

She predicted 100 people will show up at Monday’s hearing to oppose the standards. CDE has received about 500 e-mails on the issue.

Here’s what some board members currently have to say about their positions:

Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District – “I am voting for common core.”

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District – “I’m waiting for more information from staff right now.”

Marcia Neal, R-3rd District – “I will probably vote to oppose,” she said. In a recent blog post,  she praised the rigor of the national standards but also wrote, “What are the downsides to this adoption? Is the money that we would gain worth the exchange? … Will this acquiescence lead to further demands, to loss of Colorado’s greatly valued local control? (Full blog post). Neal attended the annual Colorado Association of School Executives convention in Breckenridge this week and said small-district administrators “are almost unanimous in their opposition.”

Details on Monday’s meeting

Public comment will be taken from 7:30 to 9:15 a.m. in the first-floor boardroom at CDE, 201 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. The board’s meeting is scheduled from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

To listen to the proceedings online, go to the board webpage and use the link at the bottom labeled “Click here to listen live to the State Board Regular meeting.”

Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District – Didn’t respond Thursday to a message. As chair, Schaffer signed the state’s R2T application.

Littleton – In a statement Thursday, she said she opposes the standards because “Adopting these national standards would invite greater federal intrusion into the education of Colorado students. It would open the doors to national standards in other areas, like science (currently underway) civics and health, while moving us closer to national assessments and national curriculum.”

Vice Chair Randy DeHoff, R-6th District – “I am being heavily lobbied by both sides (not unexpected, nor unappreciated). This is shaping up to be one of the most difficult votes of my 12 years on the board.”

Jane Goff, D-7th District – “We’ll be discussing some options on Monday, so that’s when I’ll get to a final decision. This is really hard!”

In August 2009 the board unanimously passed a resolution supporting Colorado’s participation in the common standards project. Jones and Gov. Bill Ritter had announced in June that the state would join the effort.

Some board members expressed concerns at that time that the common standards could one day turn into federal mandates, so the resolution was carefully worked to read, “Colorado along with each state throughout the country will make its own determination as to the voluntary adoption of the Common Core Standards.”

Littleton said at that meeting, “The states are the ones defining what it is our children are learning, and it is not the federal government’s responsibility to do that.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s R2T regulations that made the common standards part of the competition weren’t published until November 2009.

Littleton is running for El Paso County commissioner and will face Democrat Mike Merrifield, the powerful outgoing chair of the state House Education Committee, in November.

Schroeder, who was appointed to her seat, is up for election, and Littleton and DeHoff will be leaving the board. There are contested races in both districts.