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Workgroup proposed for Common Core switch

ANNAPOLIS — Standards are not the real problem with the much-criticized educational program known as Common Core; the real issue is how those standards are being applied, one lawmaker argued Wednesday before a House committee.

Del. Eric Luedtke has introduced a bill to appoint a 16-member research workgroup that would evaluate schools’ needs and make budget and policy recommendations to the state.

The measure, which is supported by the Maryland State Department of Education, is one of several bills introduced this session to smooth out the transition to Common Core, a set of standards defining what K-12 students should know in language arts and mathematics by the end of each grade.

Common Core critics say schools need more flexibility, and they worry about binding teachers to standardized tests. So far the changes are also catching many teachers off guard.

Luedtke, who teaches middle school in Montgomery County, thinks these complaints often arise from implementation failures.

“The standards themselves are not the issue,” he told the House Ways and Means Committee.

Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said most parents would describe the schools’ transition to Common Core as a “train wreck.”

Ultimately the state plans to have standardized tests administered online. But some schools need significant technological upgrades to prepare, Weller said. Further, Luedtke said students come to his school with almost no experience using computers. Classrooms could use more resources to train them.

For teachers, professional development varies widely by district, Weller said. In some cases, schools are replacing curricula so they are better aligned with standardized tests, and teachers get their new lesson plans just days in advance. Besides curricula, some teachers need to learn entirely different pedagogical methods, she said.

The workgroup would focus on technology, computer training and teacher development. The governor would appoint 11 of its members, and the rest would be lawmakers and the schools superintendent.

The workgroup would assess every district’s technological needs and create a professional development plan that schools could start using this fall.

Del. Joseph Boteler, a Baltimore County Republican, objected Wednesday that the workgroup should have some members who want to cancel the Common Core transition altogether. The way Luedtke has proposed, it would be “very heavily slanted” toward Common Core supporters, he said.

Two parents also testified against Luedtke’s bill on grounds that Maryland shouldn’t be adopting Common Core standards at all. Kimberlee Shaw, an Anne Arundel County mother, predicted that the state would use this workgroup to placate parents without actually addressing their concerns.

Responding to Boteler, Luedtke said the Common Core debate too often shifts to “ideological” questions when schools need logistical help.