Conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s references to a Wake County elementary school graduation poem praising the Common Core curriculum have injected the incident into the debate over the national learning standards.
Beck said on his national radio show Friday that a Wake substitute teacher recently sent him a copy of the poem because she was concerned that the school was trying to indoctrinate students into supporting the Common Core. The comments take place amid a national backdrop in which some conservative groups in North Carolina and nationally have been trying to halt the new education standards.
“This is really spooky,” Beck said after reciting the poem, which includes lines such as “Economy, government, Revolutionary War. We learned more with Common Core.”
Pat Gray, Beck’s co-host, sarcastically said the poem “doesn’t sound like you’re indoctrinating kids at all, like it’s Soviet Russia.”
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The Obama administration and other supporters say the Common Core standards will make it possible to compare performance from state to state and ratchet up the difficulty level so that U.S. students can compete better globally. But critics, including Beck, say they fear it will lead to loss of local control over education.
Beck said the teacher told him the poem was recited by 80 fifth-grade students at a promotion ceremony in June to mark the end of the school year. The school was not named, but TheBlaze, the radio and television network founded by Beck, reported that the teacher said it happened at a school in the Raleigh area.
“She said, ‘I was spooked, and please let people know this is going on in their schools,’ ” Beck said.
Since Friday, the story has been picked up by conservative websites that have been trying to get states to abandon the Common Core.
June Atkinson, the state superintendent of public instruction, who heard about the incident only through media accounts, said too much was being made of the poem’s recitation.
“It’s just students expressing what they’ve learned throughout the year,” Atkinson said Tuesday. “Is it a bad thing that they learned about decimals and fractions with the Common Core?”
TheBlaze says the substitute teacher “preferred not to be named.” But Beck said on the air that her name is Cheryl Slovensky.
Slovensky has been a substitute teacher in Wake since 2006, according to Renee McCoy, a Wake schools spokeswoman. She said that Slovensky teaches at a high school and four elementary schools, including Banks Road, Fuquay-Varina, Vance and West Lake.
McCoy said the school district, which is the largest in North Carolina, declined to comment about the poem.
Efforts to reach Slovensky on Tuesday were unsuccessful. But a person with the same name has posted comments on multiple websites saying states should drop the Common Core.
“I am in the schools regularly and know first hand that many teachers are extremely unhappy with common core,” a poster identified as Cheryl Slovensky wrote in a comment last week responding to a YouTube video by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest challenging the Common Core. “I’ve investigated it myself and am adamantly opposed to the federal takeover of our education system in N.C.”
But Atkinson said people who take the time to read the Common Core will see why it’s needed.
The Common Core State Standards are aimed at providing a consistent and rigorous road map for what students should learn in math and English/language arts from kindergarten through high school.
The standards were developed in a bipartisan state-led effort by the National Governors Association. They were adopted by North Carolina’s Board of Education in 2010 and implemented statewide this past school year.
Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh think tank that advocates for small government, is no supporter of Common Core. But he said the poem should only be considered “an isolated incident” and not part of a larger conspiracy.
“It really feeds into fears that Common Core is undermining democratic institutions,” Stoops said of the poem. “I’m not going to go that far.”