Long-shot bid for SPI tied to Common Core

Long-shot bid for SPI tied to Common Core

(Calif.) Like many conservatives, Lydia Gutierrez is opposed to the new national curriculum standards – but the 56-year-old Republican is the only one of them running for state schools chief.

If many of the Tea Party voters likely to support her reject the Common Core State Standards because of  their association with President Barack Obama – not she. Gutierrez said her main concerns center around how the standards were created, the new test-taking process and the role computers play in the testing.

“Common Core is a theory,” Gutierrez told Cabinet Report. “Before Common Core, any standards that went before a child had to be scientifically vetted with research of the cognitive development of the child’s brain - what information the child could process - and required a high quality data analysis that had to be reviewed and documented, and could be repeated in any other setting.”

In contrast, she said, “Common Core was put together in six months.”

Though her parents never finished high school, Gutierrez – the ninth of 10 children – went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Pepperdine University and a Masters in Multicultural Bilingual Education from Dominguez Hills.

Now, after two decades teaching at Long Beach Unified and serving as an elected member of a neighborhood council in San Pedro, Gutierrez said she believes she is ready to serve as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“I am running to create transparency and accountability of the tax dollars allocated to education and to assure that those dollars are making it into the hands that need it most – our schools” Gutierrez explains on her official campaign website.

Her candidacy is, by any measure, an uphill challenge.

The incumbent, Tom Torlakson, has a 30-year record in statewide politics including a long career in both houses of the Legislature. He also enjoys a politically potent endorsement from the California Teachers Association.

His primary challenger, Marshall Tuck, is the darling of education reformists, including supporters of the charter movement. Tuck has also won the endorsement of three of California’s biggest newspapers The Sacramento Bee, The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Despite the big names throwing big money behind Tuck and Torlakson, Gutierrez said she’s faced similar uphill battles before, including a 2011 run for a community college board where she was also badly out-spent but lost by only 3 percentage points.

“I learned from a very young age that you have to work for what you want,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve been out there working it.”

As a candidate and as a teacher, Gutierrez has focused her campaign around the Common Core, perhaps hoping concerns over federal intrusion into the classroom will resonate with voters.

But one of her primary objections to the Common Core is that she does not believe the standards were developed properly. She argues that, instead of having been written by academic scientists and undergoing a rigorous process through proper channels, it was written by test makers, test publishers and education consultants.

“They started at the top and pushed down,” Gutierrez said, “and so that’s why they’re so weak at the foundational level.”

For Gutierrez, part of a well-structured educational system stems from a strong foundation; something she said has been lost recently. “All of this critical thinking is ridiculous for K-3 when they need to learn their phonetic skills,” she said. “They need to learn how to appreciate literature where they’re hearing stories, they’re using their imagination, they’re creating their own stories, they’re play acting, and they’re doing puppetry. All kinds of wonderful things we used to do before this mandate of testing.”

She objects to the assessment program being used as well – the computer-adaptive system, where test questions are adjusted up or down automatically based on a student’s answer to the prior query.

While some argue that this will more accurately test what individual students know, Gutierrez believes it will only cause problems.

“Not everyone is taking the same test,” she said. “That third grade class is sitting there; they all start off maybe with the same question, but … at the end of the day all 30 students may take a completely different test. So you cannot measure any of the children against each other.”

The fact that testing is done completely online is also an issue for Gutierrez.

First of all, she points out, students who aren’t computer literate need time to learn how to use the computers. And that, Gutierrez said, takes teaching time away from core instruction.

“We used to be able to have a piece of paper and a pencil to work out our problems, and now instead of just filling it out in the bubble, we have to write it in there by computer,” she said.

“Now if you have any child that has dyslexia, if you have any child that has a problem with the brightness of the screen, if you have any child that has a problem of just sitting there for a long period of time, this is going to be stressful on the child.”

Still, her stand against the Common Core took on the color of the Tea Party as a result of standing with Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly at a Sacramento news conference in April. Donnelly, who leads moderate Neel Kashkari in the polls in advance of the June primary, has attracted significant attention nationally at least in part because of some far right positions – including opposition to the Common Core.

Donnelly, who represents eastern San Bernardino County in the state Assembly, is author of a bill that would allow individual school districts to opt out of using Common Core standards. AB 2307 came forward four years after the state board of education under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger adopted the Common Core and at least three years after most school districts began the transition to their use in the classroom.

The bill unanimously failed passage out of a policy committee the same day as the April 30 news conference and rally, but Gutierrez voiced her support of Donnelly’s effort.

“I do not support Common Core as a valid measuring tool to bring about academic success when it has not been piloted to prove its academic success and directly takes parent and local control away.”

She said a key objective, if elected, would be to engage parents more in education decision-making.

“You have to start with good communicational skills, making sure the parents are getting the information from the school and that the parent’s information is getting to us,” she said. “When you have a well-structured educational system and the parents feel the children’s needs are being met there’s going to be a stronger relationship.”

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