The Ongoing Fight Against Common Core in New Jersey

By Alyssa Lafage | The Save Jersey Blog

apple coreIn 2010, New Jersey joined 44 states and the District of Columbia in adopting Common Core. The previously untested educational standards were sold to state Governors by the Obama administration as a way to improve education across the country. According to the Department of Education, the standards for math and language arts are meant to, “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” 

Yet an increasing number of parents and educators are finding fault with Common Core, and for good reason.

Common Core is one of the most far-reaching attempts to control education that the federal government has ever made. It entrusts federal bureaucrats and private organizations with the power to make decisions on what children should learn and when they should learn it. 

Janice Lenox has been a vocal opponent to Common Core in New Jersey and is part of the group Concerned Citizens of Southern New Jersey, which is dedicated to eliminating Common Core in our state. Interestingly, while many of the most vocal national opponents to Common Core are on the right side of the political aisle, this is in no way a partisan issue. The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country said that the rollout of the standards has been “completely botched.” The group was previously in support of Common Core.

In New Jersey, Lenox and her group have been working with Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1st) since 2013 to address their concerns with Common Core. Lenox realized that since the standards had already been adopted in New Jersey, the only way to fight Common Core would be to expose its deficiencies. She helped craft legislation that has been taken up in the Assembly and the state Senate. The legislation would create a Common Core task force with the purpose of closely reviewing the implementation of the Common Core standards, along with reviewing issues related to the use of student data and teacher evaluation methods.

A3081 was passed the Assembly on June 16th with almost unanimous support, 72-4, with 4 no votes. This should have been huge news, considering the tremendous grassroots effort it took to gain such bipartisan support. The same legislation that passed the Assembly has been sponsored by Van Drew in the Senate, along with the support of six other cosponsors.

As of today Senate President Steve Sweeney has not allowed SB2154 to be called up for a vote and Jan Lenox believes she knows why:

“Sweeney has passed over our bill three times. I was there all three times and he saw my face. I think the reason is that he knows we have the support and the votes to pass the bill. That is why he won’t put it up for a vote.”

There may be more to it than just that. Governor Christie has been a long-time supporter of Common Core and has made education reform a pillar of his tenure in office. Until recently there was no sign of the Gov attempting to slow down the implementation of Common Core in New Jersey; however, on July 14th, Christie did just that via an executive order.

The EO seeks to create a commission that would review “PARCC” tests aligned with the Common Core standards and examine their impact on local school districts in the state. So with Steve Sweeney, a presumptive candidate for the Governorship, holding the line on a vote in the Senate on Van Drew’s bill, Christie can shift the focus and paint himself as being a champion of this issue. And it makes sense. With his sights presumably set on a White House run in 2016, the growing opposition to Common Core amongst conservatives who view this as federal encroachment on the classroom could prove to be problematic for the Gov.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) visits a Camden, NJ classroom in January 2014.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) visits a Camden, NJ classroom in January 2014.

So where does Governor Christie’s executive order leave activists like Jan Lenox? She is not pleased with the latest developments and says they do not address the real problem.

“This was a three-way deal between the Governor, the senate president and the NJEA. It dismissed our concern for New Jersey’s children and left them completely out of the equation,” Lenox complained. “We are rightly concerned about what our children are learning in school, they are being tested to death and they are playing politics.”

She also pointed out that Christie’s EO doesn’t specify who will be selected to serve on the commission, only that they must have “practical experience, knowledge, or expertise in the areas of education policy or administration.” Working through Senator Van Drew, Lenox has provided three recommendations that she hopes will be considered.

It cannot be over-stated that New Jersey parents are being robbed of their role in the education process as a result of Common Core but what’s worse is that children are inevitably going to suffer. Apart from the standards themselves, one of the most important things you should know about this initiative is that there is a lot of money to be made in the test generation, data acquisition and data storage.

I will report more on this in the coming weeks, Save Jerseyans.

For now, there is much to be learned about Common Core and Fairleigh Dickinson University shed some light on this via their Public Mind Poll. The poll found that only 39% of New Jerseyans claim to know some or just a little about the topic of Common Core. And of those who reported knowing at least something about the standards, 54% disapproved and 28% approved.

Concerned Citizens of Southern New Jersey is trying to change that. The group is planning to host a “No More Common Core” Symposium on Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 10:00am at the Ramada Inn in Vineland, NJ.  They have an impressive list of guest speakers so far, which include Sandra Stotsky, Duke Pesta, Chris Tienken, Deneen Borelli, and Tom Borelli. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.


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