Published in the July 7, 2016 edition
NORTH READING — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that a referendum seeking to end the use of Common Core educational standards in the state cannot be included on the November ballot.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously Friday that the wording of the question by opponents of Common Core violated principles for statewide ballot questions.
The court found that the ballot question, as it was written, linked a proposed policy of rejecting Common Core standards with a proposed policy of increasing transparency in standardized testing. That violates rules for statewide referendums that require questions to ask voters about a single public policy issue. The court did not consider the merits of Common Core.
Common Core standards were developed in 2009 as part of an initiative to create consistent learning goals for all students. Massachusetts adopted the standards in 2010.
The ruling came just days before the group End Common Core Massachusetts was poised to file 130,000 signatures gathered to place the question on the ballot.
“No emotions can express how disappointed we are with the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today,” said Donna Colorio, chairperson of the group.
“Parents, educators and concerned citizens collected over 100,000 signatures to put this critical question on the ballot and their voices have been silenced by this disastrous ruling.
“This ruling is an example of big special interest money using intimidation tactics with scores of lawyers and public relations machines to do what is best for them and drown out the voices of the people. The special interests behind Common Core do not want an open and fair debate about education in Massachusetts, so they rely on legal maneuvers and technicalities to control public education in Massachusetts.
“The ones who really lost are the students. They are the ones most negatively affected by this ruling,” Colorio said.
Taking the opposite view was Robert V. Antonucci, chairman of a group formed to protect Common Core and one of the plaintiffs who challenged the ballot question in court. “This allows us to get back to the business of doing what’s right, and doing it right.”
Jon Bernard, superintendent of North Reading Public Schools, said he understands the different opinions on Common Core but believes abandoning standards would have been a mistake.
“I understand and respect that there are wide and varying opinions on aspects of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks incorporating the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics.
“I do believe that, as a leader in public education across the country, the state of Massachusetts stands in the distinguished position of being first in the nation in terms of academic rigor and student performance through standardized assessments.
“For many years now, I have believed that the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks include a level of rigor that students of the Commonwealth have come to expect and appreciate. Over the past few years, in North Reading, as is the case in many if not all Massachusetts public school districts, there has been a concerted and sincere effort on the part of educators to prepare students to meet these rigorous expectations through the incorporation of the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics.
“It is my opinion that abandoning the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks incorporating the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics would have been a significant step backward in the school district’s efforts to provide students with a comprehensive, 21st century education. I would go so far as to suggest that such an action would have been a disservice to our students and sent a very poor message to North Reading educators, who have worked diligently for quite some time now to ensure that all of our students receive a high quality and rigorous academic experience at all levels and which is reflective of meaningful academic standards.
“North Reading students, their parents and educators have largely and significantly embraced the effort to work together in a meaningful way to achieve the goal of implementing the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks incorporating the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics to fulfill, in part, the Vision and Mission of the North Reading Public Schools, which are noted below. Those who have a differing opinion have worked passionately and respectfully, and their input has been solicited and valued as part of the school district’s decision–making processes.
“As Superintendent of Schools, I am appreciative of this collaborative effort and have every confidence that it will continue in the future, for there has been a widespread, demonstrated commitment to excellence in public education in our community to the benefit of all students.
“Vision: The North Reading Public Schools prepare all students to be productive citizens who thrive in the 21st century.
“Mission: The North Reading Public Schools provide a safe, supportive, and contemporary learning environment where dedication to excellence, service, and life-long learning is paramount. All students are challenged to work collaboratively and to become creative and critical thinkers. Emphasis is placed on mastering core academic knowledge, developing 21st century skills, pursuing individual potential, and fostering citizenship in a global society.”