While a national debate — that sometimes spins off into lunacy — swirls around implementation of important education reforms known as Common Core, South Sound educators are doing the hard work this school year of aligning their lesson plans and course materials with the rigorous new standards.
Their work will pay off handsomely for local students — especially the children of military families — when Common Core is fully implemented in South Sound school districts next year.
Right-wing conservatives are calling the new standards Obamacore, equating Common Core to an Orwellian plot to take control of the nation’s public schools. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Common Core is a bipartisan response to critics of the American education system who complained that we have lost ground to our international competitors. Our expectations are low. Schools don’t focus on the basics. Too many high school graduates need remediation before entering college.
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The National Governors Association — dominated by Republican governors — and the Council of Chief State School Officers collaborated with educators, industry executives and nonprofits to develop benchmarks comparable to the expectations in the best educational systems abroad.
Common Core aligns these learning standards across the 45 states, including Washington, plus the District of Columbia, that have adopted Common Core. It raises and replaces the existing patchwork of standards.
That’s a huge benefit for the South Sound’s large population of highly mobile military families. Moving from one state to another won’t force these students to duplicate material already learned or leave them struggling to catch up.
Within those participating states adopting Common Core, expectations for students will be the same at every grade level from kindergarten through grade 12.
But Common Core does not usurp local control. States don’t have to implement the standards, and a few have chosen to opt out. That’s a loss for children in those states. Students must reach the new standards, but every school district has the freedom to choose how to get them there.
The ability to compare student performance across the county is important to Olympia School District Superintendent Dick Civitanich. He says the patchwork of existing standards makes it difficult to compare and learn from each other.
“Now we will have the opportunity to measure student growth more accurately,” he says.
North Thurston School District Superintendent Raj Manhas likes the Smarter Balanced Assessment system that will support teaching the new standards. Instead of relying solely on end-of-year testing, when teachers have little opportunity to help students, Common Core includes interim testing.
“This will allow teachers to gather information about student progress on learning the standards in time to adjust their instruction,” he says.
Manhas also points out benefits to course materials. In the past, the major publishers of texts and open-source materials have aligned their curriculum with the largest states, such as Texas, California and New York. Going forward, they’ll align content to the standards adopted in the majority of states.
The transition to new standards will be a challenge for both students and educators. For one thing, Common Core will require students to think critically, not just memorize facts. That’s good. It’s an emphasis that has been missing in some classrooms.
If America aspires to lead the world in innovation and invention, and in research and industry, it must develop an education system that matches or exceeds our global competitors. Common Core is designed to prepare the next generation of Americans to lead in the 21st-century.