Two nationally recognized educators — both critics of the controversial Common Core State Standards — are scheduled to participate next week with representatives of the Nevada Department of Education in two public examinations of the pros and cons of Common Core.

The visiting experts are Dr. James Milgram, former member of the NASA Advisory Council and professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University, and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform. Stotsky is renowned for developing some of the country’s strongest sets of academic standards for K-12 students while serving as Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education.

The Nevada Department of Education (NDE) representatives are Steve Canavero, deputy superintendent of student achievement; Cindy Sharp, director of NDE’s Office of Standards & Instructional Support; and Assistant Director Dave Brancamp.

The first symposium, hosted by Assemblyman Phillip "PK" O’Neill, R-Carson City, will be Tuesday, January 13, from 6-8 p.m., in room 1214 of the Nevada Legislative building, 401 South Carson St., Carson City. The meeting will also be teleconferenced, via live streaming, to the state’s Grant Sawyer Building, 555 E. Washington Ave., room 4401, in Las Vegas.

The teleconferencing to Grant Sawyer will allow question-and-answer opportunities for attendees in southern Nevada, says Ann Bednarski, chairwoman of Citizens for Sound Academic Standards (C4SAS), the organization that arranged the Common Core events.

Common Core is a copyrighted set of academic standards commissioned by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). All but four states have adopted these standards, many with modifications. In Nevada, the standards were adopted verbatim and are officially called the Nevada Academic Content Standards.

Doctors Milgram and Stotsky were members of the NGA and CCSSO Common Core standards-validation committee. Both, however, refused to sign-off on the standards and are now active critics of Common Core.

Nevada’s symposiums “are a big deal,” says Stotsky. Although parents across the country are becoming upset, she says, no one wants to talk to them — not even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Next week’s forums will be a first of their kind in Nevada, offering an unprecedented opportunity for Nevada parents and lawmakers, said Bednarski.

NDE spokeswoman Judy Osgood told Nevada Journal that officials from NDE will use this “unique opportunity for teachers from Reno, Fallon and Carson City to discuss how the standards are working in Nevada classrooms and answer questions parents or lawmakers may have.”

Diane Burnett, director of Stop Common Core Nevada, says it’s important for parents to hear Milgram and Stotsky “if they have any doubts that [Common Core] is bad for their kids.”

It is also vitally important, she says, for “every parent to personally invite their representatives to sit in on this [January 13] hearing” at the Legislative building.

The legislators “are the only ones who can remove [Common Core] from our state,” said Burnett.

A second symposium, sponsored by the Churchill County School District, will be held at the Fallon Convention Center, 100 Campus Way on Wednesday, January 14, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

When many states first signed up for Common Core in 2009, they did so in hopes of winning federal Race-to-the-Top grant money and had no idea what they were actually committing to, says Heather Kays, research fellow at the Heartland Institute and managing editor at School Reform News.  

Several states, she said, had not even seen a final draft of the standards before they signed up.

Nevada was one such state, where its then-superintendent of public instruction, Keith Rheault, with the assent of then-governor Jim Gibbons, committed Nevada as a “full participant in the Common Core Standards Initiative.

It was not until one year later — on June 2, 2010 — that the Common Core standards for mathematics and English language arts were released.  

States are now recognizing, says Kays, that they “are losing autonomy and local control of education.” Consequently, in an increasing number of states, legislators and grassroots groups are moving to repeal Common Core.

Roughly a dozen states have taken steps to repeal or at least review the standards, according to Kays. So far, Nevada has not joined those states.

Five years after state officials committed to the Common Core Initiative as part of their efforts to win federal Race to the Top moneys, parents and teachers — now experiencing Common Core in their homes and classrooms — are increasingly asking some hard questions.

Assemblyman O’Neill minimizes his role as just providing “a name” to assist Bednarski with getting the legislative building site and live streaming to Las Vegas. However, he says he “felt there [were] some legitimate questions not being answered,” and that these forums would “provide an opportunity to finally have questions answered by the Nevada Department of Education.”

“My goal,” says O’Neill simply, “is to do what is right for Nevada.”

In Reno on Wednesday, January 14, a third event — Questions and Answers with Drs. Milgram and Stotsky — will be part of the weekly Conservative Talk Lunch at Kings Buffet, 3650 Kietzke Lane, from 12-1:30 p.m.

Lunch at the event is $12.

For more information on these events, interested parties can contact Ann Bednarski at 775- 882-3854.

Karen Gray is a reporter/researcher with Nevada Journal. For more in-depth reporting, visit NevadaJournal.com and npri.org.