Com­mon Core protests show no signs of slow­ing

Par­ents, teach­ers want lo­cal con­trol

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY ALEX HOP­KINS

A fierce bat­tle in New York is the lat­est sign that pop­ulist re­sis­tance to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion-backed Com­mon Core ed­u­ca­tion re­forms shows no signs of slow­ing — and that the op­po­si­tion isn’t lim­ited to red states.

Since 2010, 45 states have adopted the Com­mon Core bench­marks for pro­fi­ciency in English and math for school­child­ren at the end of each grade.

Crit­ics say sev­eral states are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing buy­ers’ re­morse af­ter com­plaints from par­ents and schol­ars that the re­forms are untested and poorly de­signed and put ad­di­tional bur­dens on teach­ers and stu­dents. They also say Com­mon Core rep­re­sents a fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­tru­sion into an area tra­di­tion­ally op­er­ated at the state and lo­cal lev­els.

Com­mon Core, backed by $4.35 bil­lion of­fered to states through Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2009 stim­u­lus, ap­peared to be over­com­ing op­po­si­tion when it was im­ple­mented.

Now, how­ever, back­lash has been gain­ing force. Blog­ger Michele Zipp

High-oc­cu­pancy toll lanes on the Belt­way in North­ern Vir­ginia are un­der­per­form­ing a year af­ter open­ing, a hur­dle sim­i­lar to oth­ers across the coun­try dur­ing the in­fancy of road projects.

An­a­lysts say the lower-than-ex­pected traf­fic on the 14-mile-long cor­ri­dor could be a re­sult of chang­ing tran­sit pat­terns, an in­di­ca­tion that driv­ers lack fa­mil­iar­ity with the lanes or that pre­dic­tions in early plan­ning stages were overly op­ti­mistic.

The 495 Ex­press Lanes were built through a pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship and are op­er­ated by Aus­tralian com­pany Transur­ban, where of­fi­cials say they plan to cre­ate bet­ter sig­nage and ex­pand out­reach in ef­forts to in­crease us­age.

“There’s cer­tainly a ramp-up pe­riod and there’s

ed­u­ca­tion to be done, and that’s what we’re fo­cus­ing on in the next year,” Transur­ban spokesman Michael McGurk said.

In an Oc­to­ber fi­nan­cial re­port, Transur­ban dis­closed that “traf­fic on the 495 Ex­press Lanes in North­ern Vir­ginia re­mains be­low the project case ex­pec­ta­tions” with the num­ber of trips av­er­ag­ing 37,574 per week­day. Plan­ners ini­tially es­ti­mated that week­day us­age would av­er­age 66,000 trips within the first year.

“We saw the same thing with the [In­ter­county Con­nec­tor in Mary­land] and other ex­press lanes across the coun­try,” said AAA Mid-At­lantic spokesman John B. Townsend II. “There is go­ing to be longer ramp-up pe­riod when you al­most have to dare peo­ple to use such a fa­cil­ity.”

Baruch Feigen­baum, a trans­porta­tion pol­icy an­a­lyst at Rea­son Foun­da­tion, said it typ­i­cally takes a year to 18 months for high-oc­cu­pancy toll lanes to reach their stride.

“I’m fairly con­fi­dent that we will be where we need to be in six months,” Mr. Feigen­baum said.

The av­er­age num­ber of daily trips has in­creased steadily since the 495 Ex­press Lanes lanes opened in Novem­ber 2012, with record daily toll rev­enue of $108,493 and 47,303 trips recorded on Sept. 12.

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to re­view the rev­enue pro­file against our ex­pec­ta­tions,” Mr. McGurk said.

Across the coun­try

HOT lanes across the coun­try have ex­pe­ri­enced roll­out prob­lems, but trans­porta­tion schol­ars say us­age has in­creased as driv­ers be­come ac­cus­tomed to them.

The projects pro­vide ded­i­cated lanes re­stricted to ve­hi­cles with a cer­tain num­ber of pas­sen­gers — three in Vir­ginia’s case — or ve­hi­cles that pay a toll. Their pur­pose is to en­cour­age car­pool­ing or of­fer an al­ter­na­tive to peo­ple who are will­ing to pay to travel in lanes with less traf­fic.

In At­lanta, where there was ini­tially fierce op­po­si­tion to HOT lanes on In­ter­state 85, tolls had to be ad­justed soon af­ter their 2011 open­ing be­cause so few driv­ers were us­ing the lanes.

“They got the pric­ing wrong, there was al­most no­body in the lanes and it was a big po­lit­i­cal mess,” said Mr. Feigen­baum, adding that the toll lanes hit their us­age tar­get about a year later.

In Los An­ge­les, where high-oc­cu­pancy ve­hi­cle lanes were con­verted to HOT lanes, con­ges­tion ini­tially wors­ened, said Robert Poole, di­rec­tor of trans­porta­tion pol­icy at Rea­son Foun­da­tion.

Car­pool­ers were re­quired to have transpon­ders to ride in the HOT lanes. Many did not pur­chase the de­vices ini­tially and were forced back onto the reg­u­lar high­way, in­creas­ing traf­fic.

The suc­cesses of other projects have brought their own is­sues. Mi­ami’s HOT lanes on In­ter­state 95, opened in 2008, have be­come so pop­u­lar that law­mak­ers are de­bat­ing whether to raise tolls to re­duce us­age and im­prove traf­fic flow.

Vir­ginia Gov. Bob McDon­nell, a Repub­li­can, touted the pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship as a suc­cess­ful piece of his com­pre­hen­sive trans­porta­tion plan. He pro­posed pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships and toll roads as part of his so­lu­tion to the state’s traf­fic prob­lems, but the ini­tia­tive was in mo­tion when Mr. McDon­nell was elected in 2009.

An­a­lysts say Vir­ginia’s ex­press lanes are com­plex, with mul­ti­ple en­try and exit points, and it may take more time for driv­ers to de­cide whether they are worth the cost.

“The ones in Mi­ami, you can get on and you can get off and that’s it. It’s a pipe,” Mr. Poole said. “The ex­press lanes on the Belt­way are the most com­plex of any­where thus far. I’m not sur­prised that it takes longer to fig­ure it out.”

Driv­ers ed

Transur­ban has taken steps to ed­u­cate driv­ers about the 495 Ex­press Lanes. In April, it of­fered a toll-free weekend so driv­ers could try the lanes. In June, the speed limit was raised from 55 mph to 65 mph to cre­ate greater ap­peal.

But chang­ing driv­ers’ com­mut­ing habits will take “con­stant mes­sag­ing,” Mr. Townsend said.

Mr. McGurk said Transur­ban plans to use feed­back from a re­cent sur­vey to look at ways to im­prove sig­nage ex­plain­ing where to en­ter and exit the ex­press lanes. The com­pany also will launch a mar­ket­ing cam­paign to let driv­ers know they can pur­chase the E-ZPass, the transpon­der used to pay the toll fees, online and at gro­cery stores.

Mr. McGurk said Transur­ban also is reach­ing out to large busi­nesses in the Tysons Cor­ner area to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion to em­ploy­ees about the tolls’ dy­namic pric­ing, which charges more when traf­fic is con­gested, and ac­cess points.

“It takes driv­ers a long time to re­ally get used to this and make it a piece of their com­mute,” Mr. McGurk said.

Ex­pect­ing too much

Driv­ing has been on the de­cline in the U.S. since 2004, prompt­ing con­cern from op­po­nents that de­vel­op­ment of the 495 Ex­press Lanes was not the best tran­sit in­vest­ment.

The lanes cost nearly $2 bil­lion to build, though Vir­ginia con­trib­uted only $409 mil­lion to the pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship. How­ever an ad­di­tional 29-mile stretch of HOT lanes is un­der con­struc­tion along I-95. If the nearly $1 bil­lion project turns a profit, the state stands to col­lect a per­cent­age. But given the lack­lus­ter per­for­mance of the 495 Ex­press Lanes, some think the state should have waited be­fore em­bark­ing on another project.

Point­ing to the In­ter­county Con­nec­tor in Mary­land and the ex­press lanes, Stewart Schwartz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Coali­tion for Smarter Growth, said plan­ners es­ti­mated higher us­age and bet­ter re­turns on both projects.

“Both lanes are well be­low their orig­i­nal fore­casts for num­ber of trips and rev­enue, which in­di­cates th­ese are both still ex­per­i­ments,” Mr. Schwartz said. “That’s why we urged them to wait on the I-95 HOT lanes. We re­ally need to test this out be­fore we go fur­ther.”

Tran­sit pat­terns also are shift­ing, Mr. Schwartz said, with peo­ple mov­ing in droves into the Dis­trict in the midst of its ur­ban re­newal and trad­ing long road com­mutes for other modes of trans­porta­tion.

He ques­tions whether in­vest­ment in ex­press buses on ded­i­cated lanes or bet­ter links with tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment could have been more ef­fec­tive at re­duc­ing re­gional con­ges­tion.

Not­ing that us­age es­ti­mates of the 495 Ex­press Lanes were made be­fore the re­ces­sion — dur­ing which U.S. car us­age de­clined markedly — Mr. Poole thinks plan­ners may have got­ten into trou­ble in the short term.

“There is a ques­tion of how they are go­ing to cover their debt ser­vice in the next sev­eral years,” he said.

But as long as the re­gional econ­omy re­mains ro­bust, he said, driv­ers likely will re­turn to the roads and help make the HOT lanes suc­cess­ful. of The Stir last week said Com­mon Core “is kind of turn­ing into the Oba­macare of ed­u­ca­tion.”

Com­mon Core op­po­nents have or­ga­nized a so­cial me­dia cam­paign to make Mon­day a “Na­tional Don’t Send Your Child to School Day” and have planned protests at lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ings. A Face­book page for pro­test­ers had more than 5,500 sup­port­ers by Sun­day.

Op­po­si­tion to Com­mon Core has been roil­ing in re­cent weeks since New York state Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner John King con­ducted a se­ries of meet­ings that high­lighted deep con­cerns about the re­forms.

“We are abus­ing the chil­dren in the state of New York,” Beth Dimino, pres­i­dent of the Port Jef­fer­son Sta­tion Par­ent Teacher As­so­ci­a­tion, said at a fo­rum last week at Ward Melville High School, ac­cord­ing to an ac­count on Patch.com.

Lana Ajemian, the head of New York’s Par­ent Teacher As­so­ci­a­tion, said stan­dards have moved far too quickly for stu­dents to keep up. “It’s like the train’s pulling out of the sta­tion with­out every­body on board,” Ms. Ajemian told NBC New York dur­ing the pub­lic fo­rum on Long Is­land.

Con­ser­va­tive ed­u­ca­tion schol­ars have led op­po­si­tion to Com­mon Core re­forms, but the re­sis­tance ap­pears to have taken the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the ed­u­ca­tion es­tab­lish­ment by sur­prise. The bi­par­ti­san Na­tional Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion and the Coun­cil of Chief State School Of­fi­cers have led state-by-state adop­tion of the stan­dards.

“De­vel­op­ment of th­ese stan­dards was not driven by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, but by the states,” wrote Den­nis Van Roekel, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion. “Gover­nors on both sides of the aisle, the busi­ness com­mu­nity, and most im­por­tantly ed­u­ca­tors, came to­gether to en­sure one thing: that stu­dents learn what they need to live a suc­cess­ful life in a 21st cen­tury global econ­omy.”

Al­though adop­tion of Com­mon Core was vol­un­tary, states that re­jected the stan­dards were con­sid­ered ef­fec­tively in­el­i­gi­ble for fed­eral stim­u­lus funds tied to Pres­i­dent Obama’s Race to the Top ini­tia­tive.

The four states that have re­jected Com­mon Core com­pletely are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Vir­ginia. Min­nesota has ac­cepted the English stan­dards but not the math stan­dards.

But much of the en­ergy in re­cent months has come from op­po­nents, who in­clude an un­usu­ally broad mix of schol­ars, teach­ers, par­ents and state leg­is­la­tors.

In one of the first signs of re­sis­tance, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee un­ex­pect­edly adopted a res­o­lu­tion op­pos­ing Com­mon Core. At its spring meet­ing, the RNC called Com­mon Core an “in­ap­pro­pri­ate over­reach to stan­dard­ize and con­trol the ed­u­ca­tion of our chil­dren so they will con­form to a pre­con­ceived ‘nor­mal.’”

Un­der pres­sure from par­ents, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Repub­li­can, sent a let­ter last month in­form­ing Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can that his state was leav­ing Com­mon Core, cit­ing a “fed­eral in­tru­sion in ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also a Repub­li­can, signed the Com­mon Core Pause Bill this year to al­low de­lib­er­a­tion among state agen­cies un­til a con­sen­sus could be reached on gov­ern­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion.

In a move that sparked sharp de­bate within the Amer­i­can church, a group of 132 re­spected Catholic schol­ars and ed­u­ca­tors re­leased an open let­ter last week call­ing on U.S. bish­ops to block the Com­mon Core stan­dards from be­ing im­posed on the Catholic Church’s ex­ten­sive net­work of parochial schools.

“We be­lieve that, not­with­stand­ing the good in­ten­tions of those who made th­ese de­ci­sions, Com­mon Core was ap­proved too hastily and with in­ad­e­quate con­sid­er­a­tion of how it would change the char­ac­ter and cur­ricu­lum of our na­tion’s Catholic schools …,” the let­ter said. “In fact, we are con­vinced that Com­mon Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to ap­prove it, and that those schools which have al­ready en­dorsed it should seek an or­derly with­drawal now.”

Other states, in­clud­ing Alabama, have mixed feel­ings about Com­mon Core.

“I am adamantly op­posed to Com­mon Core, and I hope the Leg­is­la­ture will do some­thing about it,” state Sen. Scott Bea­son, Gar­den­dale Repub­li­can, said last week. “There are some peo­ple who would like to avoid it one way or another. But I be­lieve it’s one of the big­gest is­sues fac­ing the Repub­li­can Party, and this is a red state.”

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