Members of the local community met at the Blue Lion in Fort Smith on June 18th. The room was filled with teachers, education specialists, parents, and students. The meeting was held as part of the Lt. Governor Tim Griffin’s listening tour. Griffin and a council of teachers have been touring the state as part of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s commission to study Common Core State Standards and PARCC assessments.

Earlier this month the Council made a recommendation to the Governor to remove PARCC assessments and adopt the ACT Aspire test in its place. Hutchinson agreed with the recommendation and later, the Arkansas Board of Education overruled that decision with a vote of 7-1. Pearson is the company that administers both PARCC and ACT Aspire. It is interesting to note the 9 out of the 9 board members are Gov. BeeBe appointments. Gov. Hutchinson has 3 appointments coming up for the Board of Education in July.

With high stakes testing and the new standards the council has a big job. They have listened to hours of testimony from the public since the commission was founded by Governor Hutchinson. Comments and passionate speeches were heard by many in the crowd Thursday night. One parent voiced his concern over Appendix B and the list of exemplar texts that he feels some teachers are taking as cannon. He was particularly upset about "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison. The text contains graphic sexual scenes. That is when things got really heated and several people spoke up about the book being inappropriate. At one point Griffin said, "Please stay orderly and civil." For the most part people were extremely respectful some taking more time at the mic than others.

Another concern was raised about the fact that the council is not commissioned to review Math and Science Standards. A nursing teacher from UAFS was concerned that certain things are not covered in the Science Standards like the human body and the skeletal system. In reference to the standards she said, "Its like putting lipstick on a pig.. and that education mediocrity looms."

Another parent was concerned that the Constitution was not included enough in the Social Studies Standards. Griffin responded to these comments by saying, "We have not dug deeply into this area."

Linda Fulmer a retired FSPS administrator spoke about the Standards, "The Standards were created with no transparency and hurriedly written…it was like adopt the standards so you get the money." She also raised concerns about the amount of testing. "Our schools are a testing factory..It is a waste of time and money."

The evening proved to be a heated night with few teachers supporting Common Core.

One teacher from Fayetteville said she has had lots of success teaching math with the new standards. Several teaching co-ops were represented and spoke about its positives and negatives.

One parent spoke about the data gathering on students with the PARCC test and how it was an invasion of his child’s privacy.

A senior from Alma High School spoke passionately to the council. "I feel like a lab rat. The only scores that matter are the ACT. Please appreciate the students and how we feel."

A Fort Smith businessman and parent raised concerns over his child’s math homework and the process in which problems are done with Common Core. This sparked discussion on CGI and discovery based learning. A need was expressed on how to get teachers on the same page. It is important to understand that teachers have control of how to get the standards across to their specific student population. Griffin talked about how the standards were created from the top down and that it should have been created differently. A member on the council stated that the standards were presented like a "tbone steak on a trash can lid."

One of the highlights of the evening was when State Rep. Charlotte Douglas spoke. As a retired teacher she spoke passionately about the issue. "We need good leaders in the schools and local control. It is wrong to force teachers to teach in a certain manner. We need to go back and invest in our schools and good leaders. Don’t forget about the teachers, students will learn if they have a good teacher."

The evening covered a lot of complaints and concerns over Professional Development for teachers, too much testing, confusion over how to teach the standards, and too much time spent out of the classroom for testing. The average teacher will spend up to 20 days out of the classroom preparing or administering tests.

State Senator, Jake Files commented on the Common Core Council, "I hope that the comments and sentiments of the citizens around the state don’t fall on deaf ears, not just with the Council, but with those who are empowered to act. I think one of the reasons people become disenchanted with the political process is when they actually take the time to reach out and let their voices be heard, and then there is no corresponding action."

The Common Core Review Council will make more recommendations to the Governor this summer after they process the testimony. JR. Davis from the office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson stated, "First and foremost it is important that we are having these discussions. It should help parents to know how much effort is being put forth by the council. Hours and hours of listening have gone into this. The council is a group of highly educated and informed educators." Davis also spoke about the fact that there are many misconceptions about Common Core. "It is a good thing to have high standards. We need to have a good standard to measure our students in Arkansas."

On June 22nd Gov. Hutchinson issued a letter to commissioner Key to direct the Dept. of Education to withdraw from PARCC in accordance with the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dated Sept. 20, 2010. In the letter Gov. Hutchinson states, "Based on actions during the regular session it is clear that legislators want to move away from PARCC. It should be noted that the number of other states participating in PARCC has dropped substantially, a trend that could make the prospect of cross-state comparability difficult in the future…Please coordinate with the State Board of Education to select a new assessment provider."