LINCOLN — A busload of Omaha-area residents and several residents from Lincoln urged the Nebraska State Board of Education on Friday morning to resist adopting the Common Core state standards.
Wearing stickers on their shirts with a red line crossing out the words “Common Core,” about 35 people filled the board chambers and urged board members to hold steady to their position of using academic standards written by Nebraska educators.
It was the largest public demonstration to date against bringing the standards to Nebraska, and a signal that any future effort to adopt them is likely to spur a heated debate.
Many educators like the standards and are advocating for their adoption.
The board listened to several speakers for about 20 minutes before board president Pat Timm cut off anymore speaking. She said the board had a busy agenda and had to move on to other items.
That triggered criticism from the crowd.
Board member John Sieler of Omaha said people had traveled a long way to speak and they deserved a chance to make their points. He made a motion to allow each person one minute to talk, but his motion did not get a second.
Mary Jane Truemper, an Omaha real estate agent, said cutting off the speakers was “outrageous.”
“What is more important than listening to the concerns of your constituents?” she asked.
“I am stunned,” said Vicki Hahn, a retiree with a home-based travel agency. “I'm just shaking.”
Timm then paused the meeting so that the residents could speak individually with board members.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed said afterward that adoption of the Common Core was not on the agenda, so it was reasonable for Timm to limit comment.
He said board members have received many emails and phone calls from critics of the Common Core and are aware of their concerns.
He said that if the board were to propose a change in standards, a public hearing would be required “and it would go until every last person had their say.”
While there is no proposal before the board to adopt Common Core, the board is awaiting results of a study comparing Nebraska's home-grown math and English standards to the Common Core.
One question of concern among supporters is whether Nebraska's go-it-alone stance will cost the state federal money, which is not clear.
Forty-six states have adopted the Common Core standards, which describe what children should know and be able to do in each grade. They were developed through a consortium of states, pushed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Supporters say the standards are more rigorous than most state standards and are internationally benchmarked.
Their adoption has been a hot-button issue across the country, opposed particularly by Tea Party and patriot groups, but liberals have begun to join the chorus. The Sarpy County Republican Committee this week passed a resolution opposing the Common Core standards.
Several residents told board members that the next Nebraska education commissioner should be someone who will maintain the state's opposition to adoption. Breed retires July 1.
Regina Miller, a parent from Omaha Public Schools who addressed the board alongside her daughter, Morgan, 10, encouraged the board “to continue to remain vigilant when evaluating candidates to replace Mr. Breed.
“We expect that you will identify a candidate that mirrors our state's desire to stay independent from the requirements of the” standards, she said.
Among the residents in attendance was Melanie Williams-Smotherman, who said she leans left politically but is concerned that Common Core amounts to government overreach that will perpetuate the testing culture in schools and place too much power in corporate hands.
“Common Core represents a drive toward making public education a for-profit industry, and the losers are children and the best educators,” she said.
Williams-Smotherman, who said she advocates for children and families caught up in the child welfare and juvenile-court system, said moving to a single set of standards also undermines diversity.
She said that while she doesn’t agree with some of the conservative arguments against them, liberals and conservatives are finding common ground in their concern that the standards and their national implementation are an attack on liberty.
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