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Lawmaker says 'trickery' slipped Common Core into Alaska school districts

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  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 30, 2014

JUNEAU -- State Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, is on a mission to root out "Common Core," the new educational standards that have become a target of the tea party movement, from Alaska schools.

At a Wednesday hearing of the Joint Administrative Regulation Review Committee, chair Reinbold grilled Mike Hanley, commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development.

Hanley said Alaska has adopted its own "Alaska Academic Standards," not the Common Core that many other states have adopted as part of a national education reform effort.

But Reinbold said those Alaska standards were so similar to the Common Core that they might as well be the same thing, and she spent much of the hearing trying to prove that, parsing previous Hanley statements on similarities and differences

"You were telling all the legislators that we weren't doing Common Core," she said. "We were being misled."

What had become a state-led education reform initiative has since become a political hot potato, with some states backing away from Common Core standards as they've become politically toxic.

"Too many people were misled across this nation and now they're having buyers' remorse," Reinbold said.

Local school districts around the state adopt the standards they want their students to strive for, and then select a curriculum to be taught that they think will help them get there.

But the Alaska Legislature last year adopted a prohibition on Hanley's department expending any money to implement Common Core. He told legislators at the time that the prohibition was meaningless because they weren't doing it anyway.

But Reinbold said she concluded the differences between the Alaska Academic Standards and Common Core were so slight that they were the same, and she tried repeatedly to get Hanley to admit that.

"Why are you hiding from the words 'Common Core'?" she asked.

Some Alaska school districts, including Anchorage and Copper River, have adopted Common Core, while others have gone with the Alaska standards. Anchorage adopted the tougher standards before the state created its own.

Reinbold said the prohibition adopted by the Legislature barred that. She said "trickery" was used to keep on using Common Core despite the prohibition.

Many other districts are purchasing and using curriculum materials that are aligned to the national Common Core Standards, she said.

Deena Paramo, superintendent of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, said local districts had little choice, because textbook publishers are making sure all their new materials were aligned with the new nationwide standards to ensure sales.

"You'll be hard pressed to find any materials out there that are mass produced without 'Common Core' stamped on them," she said.

Paramo said those textbooks met the Alaska standards, but she didn't want to purchase them because they were labeled "Common Core." She predicted that because of the burgeoning controversy publishers would soon produce the exact same textbooks without the label for districts such as hers.

Reinbold said she finds the national move towards Common Core disturbing as well.

"This is a very dangerous road we're going down," she said.

States, local school boards and parents are all being forced to use national standard materials, she said, and losing local control.

One specific concern she raised was with Common Core history standards.

"U.S. history is very important to understand how this wonderful nation was built," she said.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, joined Reinbold in expressing concern that local districts were using state money to purchase materials aligned with the Common Core despite the prohibition.

"For me and my constituents, they don't want to see Common Core any more than they already have into the district," she said.

She said that the prohibition on expending state money on Common Core had been intended to bar local districts from doing so as well. That includes their per-student funding known as the base student allocation, she said.

But Hanley disputed that had been the Legislature's intent. He said he doubted that Anchorage legislators would have adopted the prohibition if it blocked state funds from going to Anchorage schools.

Local school boards may not like being told what standards they must adopt or or what textbooks they have to use, said Joseph Reeves, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

"It's a local control issue -- the state has standards, and the curriculum that is used in school districts to meet those standards is really up to the local district," Reeves said in an interview after the hearing.