27 May

Compromise for the Common Core Standards in Tennessee

Adopted July 30, 2010 and fully implemented during the 2013-2014 school year, the Common Core in Tennessee has seen the typical back and forth. Yet in among the argued positives and negatives, many teachers are standing strong on behalf of the core, not seeing it as a federal takeover so much as an improvement in the quality of education they can offer their students.

Survey Positivity

Four years after adoption, the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development pieced together information gleaned from their third annual First to the Top Survey. It collected information from almost 28,000 educators around the state regarding the Core’s potential to impact learning as well as their thoughts about the change in general. After results were tallied, it showed that Tennessee teachers strongly stand behind the benefits of Common Core. While more guidance is necessary, the majority see it as a way to improve their quality of teaching thereby improving their students’ learning.

Privacy Issues

While the occasional bill to repeal Common Core has arisen, the Governor has been quick to swipe these aside, stating Common Core as the reason behind Tennessee’s incredible academic improvement over these last few years. However, more pertinent are the reporting requirements. With the new standards comes a new way student progress has to be measured, namely through an online database. This has raised concerns of the government using the data to compile a student database for every single student in America. US Education Secretary Arne Duncan was quick to respond this was not the government’s intention, and it is illegal to even do so. Even still, with the NSA still illegally collecting the data of America’s citizens, it’s hard to take his word at face value.

In the meantime, Tennessee is working around this matter by discussing various ways to tackle the privacy issue as best as possible. While no answers have arisen yet, the state is positive it can come up with a solution to protect its students while still taking advantage of the positive change spurred on by the new standards.

Core Future

As of now, the Core will remain in Tennessee. Even the Governor stands behind their proven effectiveness and is not aiming to strip the students of something that has been benefitting them. Opponents still rise, calling for a complete repeal in order to get the government out of their school system, but after five years of working with the program, it’s clear to the actual educators that the standards are not a federal scheme to undermine the power of the individual states. They are more challenging standards that ask the children to think for themselves and to analyze decisions to better understand how they come to specific conclusions—a talent many adults would be better off knowing how to do themselves.

13 May

Oklahoma Focuses on Critical Thinking

From the beginning, the Oklahoma adoption of the Common Core standards was rife with trouble, but not the kind of trouble seen in states like Massachusetts. Indeed, it was only in 2014 when politics became truly involved.

Technological Trouble

When states adopt Common Core, they adopt its major test, the PARCC. With the new age of technology already doing away with a vast majority of paper products, it makes sense that this new iteration of standardized testing would utilize computers and the internet, saving both schools and grading companies millions. Unfortunately, Oklahoma isn’t exactly a tech-savvy state.

A survey of all 1,773 Oklahoma schools found that only 1 in 5 had the bandwidth and a sufficient amount of digital devices to properly administer the PARCC. Hooking up over 1,000 schools while providing them all with enough computers is far more expensive than what can be covered with an education system’s budget. With most schools in poor, rural areas, the idea of laying miles of high-speed fiber optic cables needed to get them connected was a little less than possible, especially when big cable companies wouldn’t extend their reach that far.

In the end, Oklahoma decided to withdraw from PARCC, a decision that would set off even more pull back.

Repeal

With PARCC officially dropped, it didn’t take long for the rest of the state to jump on ousting the Core altogether. In 2014 alone, seven bills were introduced to repeal the new standards. In June 2014, Governor Mary Fallin officially repealed the standards, stating severe government overreach. She went on to elaborate that the standards themselves were such a debated issue that it was distracting from actually developing the best education for Oklahoma children. With the repeal, they reverted back to their Priority Academic Student Skills standards. In the coming years, the state is planning on re-evaluating and improving upon their own set of standards to best match the needs of the state. Even though there is much debate still going on, opponents far outweigh the proponents.

Oklahoma’s Future

Common Core arrived just as quickly as it left with no real effect on the students. Without the proper technology and state support, teachers were never truly forced to implement anything, and children never really proved to the community if they were actually ready or not to take on standards focused more on critical thinking. As it stands, Common Core will remain far away from Oklahoma so long as Republicans view it as a negative. However, should the other states that have adopted it show a big difference in improvement, there’s always a chance in the future that Oklahoma will rescind and actually take the time and effort necessary to implement the change.

11 May

Common Core Standards in Kansas – It’s Complicated

Formally adopted October 12, 2010, Kansas was set on full implementation by the 2013-2014 school year. However, much like almost every other state in America, 2014 brought the debate to fever pitch. Even with fighters on both sides trying to keep in and repeal it, Kansas has managed to hold on to its iteration of Common Core.

Four Years Later

It’s a story similar across the nation. Many states adopted the standards in 2010 only to find a statewide backlash nearly a half decade after the fact. During this time, schools, teachers and students have invested countless hours and resources into transforming the Kansas school system into one that aligns better with the Common Core. During this developmental phase, almost all critics were silent. Then, in February 2014, Topeka held a Common Core debate at the Statehouse where there were so many speakers, each person was limited to only 90 seconds of talk time.

Opponents felt the state could do much better than any federally supported Core. They also argued the state was not in control of the Core’s implementation. However, the teachers and educators involved in the process were quick to point out that each school district did, in fact, control its own curriculum. Everything being taught at that time had been developed by the local schools themselves.

Those against it then argued the curriculum just wasn’t rigorous enough. The educators disagreed. After having taught at the Common Core level for a few years at this point, they verified that everything taught had real world applications and truly tested the mental capabilities of the students.

2015 Defeat

Only one year later, another bill tried to make its way through that would repeal Common Core altogether. Written by Joseph Scapa, it not only made mention of English and math, the two subjects covered with the Core, it made mention of other subjects as well. This caused dismay among many educators that then became worried that passing the bill would eliminate standards across the board, including history and science. To combat this, other representatives tried tacking on amendments that would create a slow phasing out of the core standards as opposed to an immediate repeal.

In the end, Kansas voted no. The vast majority felt that if the bill passed, it would only plunge the newly emerged curriculum into a state of chaos. Interestingly enough, a lot of the current debate stems around literature. With The Bluest Eye and Dreaming in Cuban on the reading list, one written by a Nobel Prize winner, some political figures see it as too hard for high school students to handle, citing sexual scenes as the problem. In response, high school students have been trying to share their books with the befuddled politicians, hoping that if they talk about it openly, it won’t be so weird for the adults anymore.

06 May

Supporting Common Core in Montana

Unlike the other states, Montana has shown nothing but support for Common Core. Adopted a bit later than the majority, November 4, 2011, the Montana Board of Education vowed to have full implementation by the 2013-2014 school year. While there will always be voices of dissent, Montana is a rare find in that support is almost unanimous.

Teacher Support

Montana was actually the last state to adopt the standards. This delay was because the state wanted to verify this new program would be right for the students of the state. After countless hours of review and tweaking by the educators, administrators and business leaders over a period of two years and 12 public meeting, it was finally adopted.

After a few years of the implementation process, a group of Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching winners came together to write about their support of the Common Core Standards. Over the course of its evolution within the curriculum, they cited seeing their students continuing to succeed. While they are fully aware of the challenges ahead, the benefits far outweigh the problems.

Delayed Pushback

Even with the standards working so well in schools across the state, the inevitable parent and political backlash arose around the beginning of 2014, sparking the letter of support from the award winning teachers. Be it media influence or misunderstanding, the fear of government control reached even the most accepting of the states. However, unlike other states, Montana educational leaders were quick to point out every flaw in the arguments raised against their Common Core adoption. For one, the claims are not grounded in fact at all, especially the belief that it is a federally mandated program. According to the 12 public meetings they held to put the curriculum together, it’s clear the state was involved in the process from the start. Another rather sad argument is that the students just aren’t ready for such rigorous study. However, the teachers are finding their students more than ready. While the work is challenging, the kids are excelling.

In no foreseeable future is Montana going to drop their Common Core. Already fully entrenched in the school system only two years after adoption on top of very vocal educational proponents not afraid to call out opponents on their shaky arguments, Montana will remain a part of the movement. For further justification, the teachers point to their students. While the curriculum challenges them to critically analyze everything, it’s been nothing if not proof that harder standards are what they have been waiting for. Through active engagement in a way that makes material feel important due to its connection to real world implications, students across Montana are serving as the poster children for what Common Core can bring to a state.

04 May

Common Core in Wisconsin – A Benefit for the Children

In Wisconsin, Common Core was formally adopted June 2, 2010 with the plan to have full implementation by the 2014-2015 school year. As of today, this adoption has occurred across the entire state but getting to this point faced about as many problems as other states across the US have seen.

Four Years of Silence

After adoption, there wasn’t much more than the typical split that happened in most states. Some parents looked forward to the change while others found it to be far too much government involvement in state education. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, however, their state grades were far from acceptable, with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute ranking their English Language Arts and math standards a “D” and “F” respectively.

In 2011, the state budget allocated funds to a team that was tasked with developing a test that would measure students’ aptitude of the current standards. In 2012, the Read to Lead Task Force called for Wisconsin to better align their English Language Arts standards with the more rigorous Common Core requirements.

The implementation began and continued to do so until the 2014-2015 deadline they gave themselves loomed closer. Then, in 2014, an anti-Common Core bill arrived in the legislature. Superintendent Tony Evers immediately went on the defensive, calling for voters to halt it altogether. His argument was based on the fact that passing the bill would then give academic standard development power to the Legislature, taking it from the state education department. In the end, the bill was pulled, turning out to be a much hotter topic than previously imagined.

The Current Conundrum

The want to drop Common Core altogether hasn’t waned. While there is no information on how it’s affecting the children, there are plenty of stories regarding the political personnel involved. Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, has all but flip-flopped on his stance over the course of this half decade of educational change. Initially supporting it, this year he has called for a complete educational reform bill that targets the full repeal of Common Core.

Even still, pockets of resistance within the school district have appeared. Educators within the Green Bay school district have already spent years and resources putting together curriculum to fit what they thought was supposed to be fully implemented this year. Many of the educators are excited by the rigorous standards they now get to hold their students accountable to, seeing it as a way to improve the previously low statewide criteria.

While the issue continues to rage on among the politicians, it’s promising to note that the teachers see Common Core in Wisconsin as a benefit to the children. Having already set up dedicated courses to the standards, many are already seeing an improvement in student ability. So long as that continues, it can be predicted that teachers will keep with Common Core no matter what the Governor chooses.