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Mass. Prepares To Vote On Education Overhaul

Massachusetts education officials were scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposal to replace the state's math and English public school curricula with national standards, which critics have charged would damage its highly regarded education system.

The state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was to vote on whether to accept the new national Common Core standards, which specify what is taught in math and English classes at each grade level.

The education guidelines have been promoted by the administration of President Barack Obama and developed by a state consortium with the goal of establishing uniform expectations for students across the country.

Opponents, including two leaders of the 1993 education overhaul in Massachusetts, contend that the state's educational system would be weakened by the move, which they say could result in the end of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, tests. The tests, administered in English language arts, mathematics, science and technology/engineering and history and social science, are used to assess student, school and school district performances.

Advocates for the change in standards, including Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, argue the national guidelines are stronger in some areas than the state's.

Democrat Thomas Birmingham, who drafted the 1993 education reform bill as a senator, said the move presents little positive upside for the state while posing many risks to its reputation as a leader in education.

Former Republican Gov. Bill Weld, who signed the reform bill into law, said the change would be a "retrograde step" and would hasten the destruction of the MCAS.

Chester said there is no proposal to eliminate the MCAS testing, although it may eventually be modified. In a round-table discussion with reporters Tuesday, he also said the proposed national standards are, on balance, more rigorous than the state guidelines.

The move was endorsed by former Boston School Superintendent Thomas Payzant, who said the Common Core will "build on the rigorous Massachusetts curriculum frameworks."

The possible change in standards also has captured the focus of the gubernatorial race. Republican Charles Baker, who was expected to testify to the board Wednesday, said adopting Common Core would hurt students across the state.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill also has urged the board not to approve the change. He has said the MCAS should not be replaced but should be expanded.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick said he would only support the adoption of national standards if they are as strong as or stronger than the current standards.

At least two of the board's 12 members were expected to be absent from Wednesday's vote.

This program aired on July 21, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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