Warner man forms political committee opposing Common Core
After spending months researching the Common Core education standards, one New Hampshire grandfather is taking a formal stand against what he believes are mediocre standards developed by groups with no accountability to voters.
Joseph Mendola of Warner filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office recently to start a political action committee called “Grandparents and Parents Opposed to Common Core.” His mission, stated in the forms, is “to explain to the public why Common Core is wrong for our students.” Mendola, an investment real estate broker, has two grandchildren in New Hampshire public schools and had three of his own children go through the system. Donations to his PAC will go toward informational mailings and outreach to parents and school boards.
The Common Core is a set of educational standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia that is intended to better prepare U.S. students for college and careers. New Hampshire’s State Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010, a decision that was met with little notice and minimal opposition for several years. But now, as schools begin implementing the standards in preparation for Common Core-aligned tests in 2015, opposition groups are becoming louder in the state and nationwide.
Mendola doesn’t like that the standards were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, then adopted by the state board, which isn’t an elected body. Furthermore, he thinks the federal government inappropriately pressured states to adopt the standards by incentivizing them with grant money. (In order to receive funds through Race to the Top, an initiative of the Obama administration, states must have “college and career ready standards,” though not necessarily Common Core.) Mendola is a general critic of the U.S. Department of Education, which he said has eroded the quality of public education since its creation in 1979.
On the content of the standards, Mendola doesn’t believe they’re strong enough to make U.S. students competitive with their international peers, which is a goal of the standards. All of these concerns align with those of opposition groups nationwide and in New Hampshire, including Cornerstone Action, which has vocally opposed Common Core. Mendola was a Cornerstone board member five years ago, but said this effort is not connected directly to Cornerstone.
Proponents of Common Core, from school administrators to officials in the state department of education, say fears about the loss of local control are misplaced. The Common Core is a set of uniform standards, but how to implement it and what curricula to use is up to schools and teachers, they say. The rigor of these standards, they say, will help U.S. students compete on a global stage.
The Legislature has debated aspects of Common Core a few times since its adoption in 2010, but efforts to roll it back have been unsuccessful so far. The next legislative session, which begins in January, will see at least a half-dozen Common Core-related bills, ranging from delaying the new tests to repealing the law entirely. Mendola said he plans to speak with lawmakers.
By forming a PAC, Mendola can solicit donations for his outreach activities. He made a presentation opposing Common Core to Manchester’s school board earlier this fall and plans to talk to other groups and send out mailings. Grandparents and Parents Opposed to Common Core is an issue-oriented PAC, which means it won’t spend money on ads or activities related to a specific candidate. Even though Common Core is working its way into classrooms, Mendola said he thinks many teachers and parents still don’t understand it fully.
“(Parents) just have no idea what Common Core is about, and the teachers have just a glimpse of what they think it’s about,” he said.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)