Anita Stapleton, one of the original Colorado crusaders against the Common Core State Standards, didn’t need the validation she felt on Tuesday night.
But it didn’t hurt, either.
That night, Stapleton was one of hundreds of theatergoers statewide who participated in a live event hosted by conservative-media personality powerhouse Glenn Beck, who recently authored a book of opposition on the matter.
Dubbed “We Will Not Conform,” the event — equal parts group therapy, sermon, strategy session, book-sale pitch — was filmed in Texas and beamed via satellite to cineplexes across the nation.
“For him to take this on, it’s been huge,” Stapleton said. Seeing the dozens of educators, parents, and politicians who stood with Beck Tuesday night “substantiated” everything Stapleton has done. “I’m not crazy,” she chuckled. “I’m not alone.”
Stapleton’s small but vocal protest against the standards, which Colorado adopted in 2010, has been a regular fixture at Colorado State Board of Education meetings for more than a year. Multiple times a month, she crisscrosses the state, sharing her reasons for opposing the standards with whomever will listen.
Opponents of the standards, like Stapleton, have a long list of concerns. Generally, they believe the standards — and new standardized tests created to match the standards — stifle local control of schools, parents’ and student privacy rights, and that the true intent of the new standards is to make money for private businesses — not boost academic performance.
Meanwhile, supporters of the new standards, which were designed by a coalition of states and later backed by the federal government, believe the benchmarks are more rigorous than previous standards and will help prepare students for the economy of the future.
“Beck’s book asserts that Common Core is ‘about creating workers, not thinkers,’” said Zack Neumeyer, chairman of Sage Hospitality and spokesman for Future Forward Colorado, the business coalition in support of the new standards and tests. “If he talked to Colorado’s CEOs, they would tell him that we need employees who can think deeply and solve problems. The Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core, are higher expectations that give employers like me confidence that our job candidates will have the skills they need to run a hotel or restaurant or identify a good investment opportunity.”
The standards were also designed to ensure consistency in what schools are teaching across state lines. A student in Colorado, supporters argue, should neither be too far ahead nor too far behind when her family moves to Iowa. Their assessments, which debut next spring, are meant to allow states to compare results.
Beck’s aim was to catch up newbies to the issues and fire up those who have been opposed to the new standards.
And it worked, Stapleton said.
“This was a call to action — to help get the grassroots organized,” Stapleton said after the event. “It gave direction to those who didn’t have direction. We have needed help nationwide — to get to those areas where we haven’t been to raise awareness.”
The question now is whether the intended jolt of energy for those concerned citizens will translate into real political action and results.
To help ensure that translation, Beck’s team crafted a nearly 20-page “action plan” outlining next steps and emailed it to individuals who signed up for it at the event.
So far, three of the original 45 states that signed on to the standards have withdrawn from the Common Core. But in Colorado, as in a number of other states, efforts to abandon the standards have so far failed to gain substantial political momentum.
Stapleton’s organization, Stop Common Core Colorado, had organizers at 12 of the 21 theaters across Colorado that participated in the event.
The average theater, according to her organizers, had about 30 people. A theater in Grand Junction, she said, had the highest turnout with 165 people. In Aurora, where I caught the event, there were more than 60. Neither Beck nor a representative from Fathom Events, the distributor would comment on exactly how many tickets were sold at the 700 theaters that participated. But, in a statement, Josh Raffel, spokesperson for Glenn Beck said the event “would have placed it No. 2 on a per auditorium basis at the box-office when compared to movies showing the prior Tuesday.”
Stapleton said she heard reports along the front range of moviegoers staying out late into the night at nearby coffee shops and restaurants discussing their next steps.
But, she admitted, “I’ve been promised bus loads of people before” that haven’t materialized.
Turnout for a rally in February to support a bill that would delay the new standards and their aligned tests, organized in part by Stop Common Core Colorado and Core Concerns, was expected to be high, but in reality few materialized. (Plenty of folks showed up later to testify both in front of the State Board of Education and a legislative panel reviewing the bill — which later killed it.)
Still, Stapleton said she has renewed hope.
On Monday, Stapleton will kick-off a series of weekly statewide conference calls to better coordinate across the state. A leadership workshop is in the works to train activists across the state. Opponents to the standards are already eyeing the next legislative session.
And of course, there’s the 2014 midterm elections that includes a battle for control of the state Senate and the governor’s mansion. And when I asked if she and her cohorts would be taking an active role in the election, Stapleton replied: “Heavens yes.”
But other parents in Aurora were less committed.
“I’m still trying to digest it all,” said Jenae Hester, a mother of two. She pulled her daughter out of the Cherry Creek School District over her objections to the standards that she believes are a “one-size fits all” approach to education and age-inappropriate. “I took a lot of notes,” she said. “I’m going to some of the websites they mentioned.”