Educators and officials discuss pros and cons of Common Core Standards

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Statewide - posted Tue., Nov. 19, 2013
Contributed
- Contributed Photo

Editor's Note: The story “Parents important to Common Core Standards,” by Denise Coffey in the Nov. 7 edition of ReminderNews drew comments from readers for not addressing criticisms leveled against CCS. In this article, Part 2, the author addresses some of those concerns and other issues surrounding the controversial Common Core Standards.

 

Even though 45 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories have adopted the Common Core Standards in math and English language arts, CCS has its critics. Those critics claim that the standards designed for students from kindergarten through high school have been developed without adequate state input or adequate educator input, and are untested. 

Proponents claim the standards are fewer, but more thorough, and put students in every school district and state on a level playing field. Furthermore, they claim the standards are rigorous and research- and evidence-based, are in line with college and work expectations, and are internationally benchmarked.

The math standards are specific for grades K through 8. High school math standards give schools room to teach different subjects at different grade levels, as long as fundamental concepts of algebra, functions, modeling, geometry, statistics and probability are covered by the time a student graduates.

Standards in reading informational texts, literature, writing, speaking and listening and language are also grade-specific from kindergarten through grade 12. In grades K through 5, foundational skills are stressed. What that means is kindergarten students in Connecticut will need to learn the same things that kindergarten students in, say Wisconsin, North Carolina and Arizona will need to learn.

Second-grade students anywhere in those 45 states that have adopted CCS will spend their math lessons in four critical areas: understanding base-10 notation, addition and subtraction, using standard units of measure, and describing and analyzing shapes. Those same second grade students will be asked to meet specific standards in reading, writing, speaking and listening by the end of each year. For instance, they will be expected to know the main idea of a text, and be able to answer who, what, when, where and why, after reading it.

How teachers teach those concepts and what texts they use is not specified in the standards. Teaching their students to be fluent in the standards is the goal. School boards and curriculum councils, with parental input, will be the ultimate arbiters of specific curricula. In the short term there will most likely be overlaps while schools transition to common core. Theoretically that should even out after the first year a school implements it, according to Plainfield Superintendent of Schools Kenneth DiPietro.

“Parents need to understand and accept that there will be some gaps during the transition,” he said. “When you tell parents you are going to teach deeper, parents need to understand there might be things we used to teach in a grade that we won’t teach until the next grade.”

Take narrative writing, for instance. Third-grade students were tested for narrative writing under the Connecticut Mastery Tests. Under Smarter Balance Assessment tests, third-graders will be expected to know explanatory and argumentative writing, as well. If a student hasn’t been taught those genres of writing, there will be a gap. Teachers will have to fill those gaps. 

Who wrote the Common Core Standards and who funded the development of them is cause for concern for many. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers were instrumental in their creation. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a prime supporter, as has Achieve, which bills itself as a bi-partisan, non-profit education reform organization. Its Board of Directors includes governors and business leaders. Critics claim that state leaders, teachers and parents have been largely excluded from the work.

State Dept. of Education Director of Communications Kelly Donnelly disagreed. “The Common Core State Standards were developed by the states and teachers, parents and community leaders having weighed-in on the standards,” she said. “While the standards are set and adopted by the state, curricula decisions are still made at the local level.”

Furthermore, critics claim that the federal government is imposing its will on individual states. States applying for “Race to the Top” grant money had to adopt CSS. And they had to apply for the grant money before the standards were even written. “These standards grew directly from the states - making them national and not federal,” Donnelly countered.

Killingly Superintendent of Schools Kevin Farr expects his school district to be in a better position than most when it comes time for testing. “Given our computer capacity and things we’re doing to increase our wireless capability and reliability, we’re going to be in better shape than most,” he said. “We have the technology.”

Some smaller school districts may not be so lucky. Because the assessments will be computer based, and not all schools have computer capability for all students, testing may need to be done on a rotational basis.  Critics claim the costs for making schools Common Core ready will be staggering. Technology upgrades will be necessary for most schools. Curriculum will need to be developed and revamped to align with the standards. New textbooks and educational materials may need to be purchased. Teachers and administrators will need to take professional development courses. According to the Pioneer Institute, the cost to the country could range upwards of $16 billion. 

While Donnelly couldn’t give exact figures on the costs, she said districts have always devoted resources to update curricula. She said the state was devoting substantial resources to help districts implement the standards and the next-generation assessments.

Some states are fighting to reverse course on the Common Core strategy. Bills have been introduced in 10 states regarding the reversal of common core. Hearings are scheduled in three more. Grassroots efforts to overturn CCS have sprouted up in almost every state.

Another complaint leveled against CSS is the collection of student data that goes along with it.  Critics say there are models that call for 400 points of data on each student, including personal information that should have nothing to do with school performance. They call the plans intrusive and unnecessary.

But according to Donnelly, this is a persistent myth. No new data will be collected as a result of the standards or the accompanying assessments. “We are bound by law to protect the privacy of students, which we take very seriously and will continue to do so,” she said.

“The data collection is going to happen with or without common core,” said Sterling Superintendent of Schools Rita Klebart. “I think the standards are based in real life and higher level thinking skills. I like that a lot.”

“What we’re trying to do is help kids think in a way that will make them successful and get them to read and understand and be able to communicate in the world that we live in. We are not trying to preach any kind of doctrine,” Farr said.

There is a range of information on the subject. The website www.corestandards.org lists the specific standards. For some of the pros and cons of the standards, go to http://www.parents4publicschools.org.


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