SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 20, 2014

When it ain't broke

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — This state is committing to fixing education whether it needs it or not. At least that’s the complaint of school board member Dave McGeney, who is shouting out a warning about Common Core, a national program to standardize education in each state, including curriculum and testing. It’s on its way to Massachusetts, and McGeney is wondering why.

MCAS “catapulted Massachusetts to No. 1 in the country six years in a row. That’s Ed Reform,” he said. Massachusetts student performance is now on a level with some of the top-rated educational systems in the world, he said. Helping to formulate Ed Reform was a woman named Sandra Stotsky, now a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas. She was later tapped to work on the Common Core program.

But Stotsky turned against the idea and now lectures on what she sees as the dangers it represents. At McGeney’s invitation, she is set to speak on Tuesday, March 11, at 7 p.m. at Higgins Middle School, outlining her misgivings.

McGeney worries that the Common Core system is untested, and he sees its spread from state to state as a power grab by the federal government.

“If you like your school system, you can keep your school system,” he says, mockingly. “It’s the abdication of our responsibility for public schools to the untested program of the federal government. ... This monumental change is happening, and no one really gets the magnitude of this road we’re going down.”

Let the federal government test Common Core in the District of Columbia, McGeney urged, and only then, if successful, advocate it for others.

It’s the biggest issue he’s faced in 20 years on the school board, McGeney said with considerable passion. He hinted that the educational establishment is pressuring its adoption. “Educational leaders are not going to say anything against it, because that would be the end of their careers.”

Even liberal New York state has put off implementing Common Core until 2022, he said. Massachusetts adopted Common Core standards in 2010 but is one of several states that have delayed implementation.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt expresses an interest in the issue, although he hasn’t taken a position.

“I want to learn. I’ll come to hear her arguments,” he said.

If I had a hammer

Who doesn’t want the job of building the new Higgins Middle School? Not many, if the latest “prequalification statements” are any measure. The statements represent the paperwork indicating “I can do the job and ought to get a crack at bidding on the $70 million project.” According to the city, 91 firms responded for the 16 different jobs involved.

“The number of prequalification statements we received is a good indication that Peabody is viewed as a strong partner by those in the construction trades,” said Bettencourt in a press release. Most of the contractors who have done this sort of work in the past have “signaled their interest in bidding.” The mayor expects shovels in the ground in the spring.

Letterwomen

Current Higgins students shined in the recent fourth annual School Spelling Bee at the Northshore Mall. Almost as impressive as their spelling acumen was their confidence.

“They seem pretty poised,” observed their teacher Dan Arsnow.

Winner AndeeMae Sims was particularly noteworthy as she maintained a relaxed demeanor notwithstanding the pressure and the fact that her dad was looking on, just back from his job on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig.

Still more Higgins

What’s next in the construction of the new Higgins Middle School? Well, it’s not a secret. You can find out all about it by attending a community meeting at the Higgins auditorium next Wednesday at 7 p.m. Discussion, led by Mayor and school board chairman Bettencourt, will concern anticipated transportation patterns, updated drawings, site preparation and work schedules.