To compete globally, we need national standards

February 18, 2014

At last week’s forum about Common Core, a man asked, Were the parents consulted about these new educational standards? Did the school PTAs participate?

Susan Bunting, superintendent of the Indian River School District, got right to the point.

Yes, Bunting said, presentations were made at both public and parent-teacher organization meetings.

But she noted a common problem when talking about Common Core - or any other educational topic.

“Philosophically, we want everybody to be involved,” Bunting said, “but when we hold public meetings about educational topics, we often have more administrators in the room than members of the public, even though we do a lot of advertising.”

There’s the rub. How do you get everybody on board when there are major changes to be made?

Bunting was speaking last week at a forum titled “Common Core Standards in Sussex County,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Sussex County and the Coastal Georgetown Chapter of the AAUW at the Beebe Medical Arts Building on Route 24. About 40 people attended.

Common Core is a nation-wide educational initiative that spells out, for each grade, what students should know in English and mathematics. It was brought about by a group of business and political leaders, including the National Governors Association. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have signed up.

But it has been controversial. In Delaware, most critics have come from the right. They fear a federal takeover of local schools. In New York, however, critics have appeared on the left, with much of the controversy stemming from the school system moving too quickly.

According to The New York Times, teachers say they haven’t been trained in the Common Core curriculum, nor did they receive new textbooks in time to teach the new material. They did, however, begin the new tests, which meant many students were unprepared.

The result: low test scores, and, naturally, angry parents.

From what Michael Kelley, director of curriculum and instruction at the Cape Henlopen School District, said, critics from both sides have less to worry about in Delaware.

Kelley described the change as more evolutionary than revolutionary. Delaware’s been doing standards-based testing for decades, he said.

“If there is a revolutionary aspect of the initiative,” Kelley said, “it’s the fact that the states adopting the new Common Core standards will ensure that 9-year-olds in Ohio, Kansas or Delaware are working toward the same fourth-grade learning targets.”

“They may be working in different textbooks and using different materials,” Kelley continued, “but they’ll be working toward the same outcome.”

As moderator Carol Jones said in her introduction, “The implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, while well intended, created a 50-state, 50-test environment in public education.”

This resulted, she said, in “state-to-state expectations and performances that varied widely.”

That’s not fair to our students, who often move from state to state during their school days.

According to Kelley, local school districts will still decide on textbooks, teaching methods and curriculum. “It’s left to us, the school districts,” Kelley said.

Actually, it sounds like the kind of initiative conservatives could support. Here you have a program that began with the nation’s governors. Using the uniform standards, states will be able to compare how their students are doing.

That means each state can serve as a learning laboratory, allowing educators to identify best practices - what’s worked well in other states -and bring them home to their own school districts.

“Curriculum is a constant work in progress,” Kelley said. “We’re always aligning and realigning new additions to the standards.”

As for New York’s problem - not being ready - Kelley said that Delaware teachers have been working since 2010 “to understand the new standards and how to effectively implement them in their classrooms.”

The new test doesn’t begin until next year. Will there be transition problems? Sure. Low test grades? Probably.

But it’s important to stay the course. Two decades ago, Massachusetts instituted tough standards. Now its students compete well with students around the world.

Generations ago, people were more likely to stay in one place. They were more likely to find work near where they grew up. They were much less likely to be competing for jobs with people in other countries. We’re doing our children a disservice unless we prepare them for a global economy.

If someone can explain to me how that’s possible without national standards of some kind, I’d love to hear about it.

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