Common Core heading to classrooms despite debate
Many area school districts are implementing the Common Core standards, which provide rigorous educational goals for students in English and math at each grade level to ensure high school graduates are prepared for college or the workforce and that students in Pennsylvania are learning the same concepts as those in other states.
Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
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As the debate over national educational standards, Common Core, increases in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, area school districts continue to roll the new standards into their curricula.
Gov. Tom Corbett delayed implementing the standards in the spring but the commonwealth now appears ready to adopt more rigorous educational standards called Pennsylvania Common Core.
“The end goal for all of us is to provide a quality education to every Pennsylvania student,” said Rep. Paul Clymer, chairman of the House Education Committee, noting that revisions to Pennsylvania Common Core presented by the state Board of Education and lawmakers are in line with that goal.
Forty-five states, including Pennsylvania, adopted the Common Core State Standards, which provide rigorous educational goals for students in English Language Arts and math to ensure high school graduates are prepared for college or the workforce.
Governors, education commissioners, teachers, principals and superintendents throughout the nation worked to develop the standards.
Local educators say most of the standards mirror what districts in Pennsylvania are already teaching, but would ensure area students are learning the same concepts as students in California, Illinois or Georgia. Local school districts in participating states will still have control over developing their own curriculum.
Many area school districts, including Canon-McMillan, are well on their way to implementing the standards.
Canon-McMillan introduced the standards in kindergarten through second grade last year, will roll them out in grades three and four for the 2013-14 school year, and plans to implement them in grades five through eight in 2014-15. Among the changes: Common Core has pushed algebra content into grades six through eight in the district, where students will get more mathematical content than they did under the old state standards.
Administrators and teachers throughout the school district have attended a series of workshops and planning meetings to prepare for Common Core.
“We tend to like the Common Core and the fact that they’re raising the bar,” said Grace Lani, director of curriculum and instruction at Canon-McMillan, noting the standards address the growing number of high school graduates who find themselves unprepared for college, the workforce or the military. “It’s nice to have standards across the nation so that a second-grader moving from one state to another, or from one county or school to another, has the same standards. Our transition is still ongoing, but teachers are being very supportive and have done a wonderful job with the transition.”
Dr. Roberta DiLorenzo, superintendent of the Washington School District, said she thinks the Common Core standards align well with the standards schools already implemented.
“(They’re) not a replacement,” DiLorenzo said. “(It) really does allow us to dig a little deeper into our curriculum and to extend the work we’re already doing. I know we as a district are moving forward in the Common Core. It only enhances the standards we already have. It’s not as though it’s a separate system; only more in-depth information. Common Core allows us to better look at what that needs to be. We now have a richer framework.”
But not everyone is happy with the new standards.
Opponents fear that the framework for the standards could result in a federal takeover of local schools, and argue school districts don’t have the funding to implement the changes. Pennsylvanians against Common Core is an advocacy group formed to combat Common Core.
“For some, the idea of violating states’ rights is important,” the group says on its website. “To others, they oppose it strictly from a quality perspective. A majority oppose it because it stifles curriculum development and teacher/school autonomy in choosing what is best for their students. Still other fiscally concerned citizens reject it for its massive spending requirements.”
Cheryl Boise, an advisor to the group from Allegheny County, said it is primarily concerned that there is no accountability for those trying to implement the standards.
There’s no guarantee that these standards will work any better than the old ones, she said.
Trinity Area School District Superintendent Paul Kasunich disagrees with opponents and said Common Core does not dictate curriculum, it only specifies the set of skills and goals that that each student should achieve by the end of a grade level.
For example, Common Core math standards require a fourth-grader to multiply a whole number of up to four digits by a one-digit whole number, but it’s up to school districts and teachers to come up with lesson plans to teach the skill.
“(Common Core) is one of the best things to happen in education. It’s setting uniform expectations, and I don’t think that’s bad,” said Kasunich. “It’s an absolute fallacy that the state or federal government is taking away control from school districts.”
Pennsylvania’s standards are a variation of the national standards and are tied to the new Keystone Exams – three subject tests (algebra I, literature and biology) – or a comparable assessment that students will be required to pass starting in 2017.
As for the price tag, the state hasn’t yet provided an estimate of what it might cost to implement the more rigorous standards.
According to Brian Uplinger, superintendent of Central Greene School District, the transition to Common Core will have a financial impact since the school district will have to purchase textbooks that align with Common Core standards, but said the district is prepared for that.
Lani said Canon-Canon-McMillan has already purchased new Common Core mathematics textbooks and other supplies for kindergarten through fourth grade, but the district needed new ones to replace old, outdated books and would have purchased new books anyway.
While DiLorenzo hasn’t heard any complaint from parents about the Common Core, school board meetings will be open to public discussions. “(We’re) going to make a stronger effort bringing those discussions out so parents and the community have a better understanding,” she said.
The state Senate Committee on Education will hold a public hearing in Harrisburg to discuss Keystone Exams on Monday and will hold another public hearing to discuss the Common Core on Thursday.