18 Aug

South Carolina’s Controversial Common Core

Though adopted July 14, 2010 during the first wave of Common Core introduction, South Carolina has always treated the movement with outright hostility. Never a state to stay calm, such seemingly blatant disregard for the state’s solidarity in educational standards has kept the state on edge for the better part of four years. Almost inevitably, though, the standards were dropped, however whether this was a wise decision is still being debated just as intensely.

State Pride

In a sentence that sums up South Carolina’s mentality, Governor Nikki Haley called for Core repeal by stating, “We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children.” This is in regard to the ideal that the Core would unite the states so that every child everywhere would receive the same level of education. So, for instance, if a teen moved during high school, they would have no problem picking up where they left off.

Unfortunately, the message was taken to mean government takeover more so than college readiness. To further slander the Core, opponents sought out difficult and confusing math problems as testaments to what a poor decision adoption of the standards was. When teachers were asked about it, they were quick to point out that no state or classroom was ever forced to use specific problems, meaning the “evidence” was entirely misleading.

Core Cancellation

Deceptive though it was, it opened the floodgates of contempt, resulting in an official repeal signed in 2014 to go active for the 2015-16 school year. Interestingly enough, this bill also came with stipulations to prevent educators from simply re-adopting chunks of the Common Core and renaming it. Under this new bill, an Education Oversight Committee must sign off on all standards before they can go into effect. Though this certainly seems hypocritical in light of South Carolina’s detestation of any kind of federal control, it is in place due to reports coming from Indiana. There, opponents are accusing the state of simply changing the name but not the Core.

Teacher Worry

As the new school year without the Core looms ahead, educators are working hard to develop South Carolina standards for where they want their state’s children to be. Ironically, opponents of the Core have turned out to be unhappy with the new standards, seeing them as so difficult that they set their children up to fail. The Board of Education backs this belief by confirming that they are indeed more challenging. Teachers also support the difficulty increase, citing the fact that parents now can’t expect their children to learn how they learned. The world has changed and so have its demands upon graduation. The educators believe in their students and understand that in order to truly prepare them for graduation, the standards need to be made just a little harder.

12 Aug

Rhode Island – Small State, Big Controversy

Adopted July 1, 2010, the Rhode Island Common Core is still hanging in there amidst a torrent of opposition. Interestingly enough, it seems the smallest state in the nation is having one of the loudest battles regarding its educational future. Even so, it would seem that the noise may be just that—noise.

Quiet Until 2014

Unlike most states that began fighting their Cores in 2013, Rhode Island was a bit delayed. Arriving at the start of 2014, opponents have begun growing their voices. Including some teachers, a few parents and three communities, the group is publicly questioning if the cost of implementing the Core has been worth it. There was even a bill introduced by Republican Gregg Amore asking for a delay of a new test until 2015. As it turns out, the bill was supported.

Such malcontent stems from the main argument that the Common Core is a government plan to infiltrate and take over the entire US school system, a future that does not sit well with the states that very much enjoy their solidarity. Tacked on to this is the belief that the heavy focus on math and English is only there to undermine the values the state places on other subjects by limiting what teachers can do.

Core Debate

In truth, the Core developed out of a desire to keep up with the rest of the world in terms of educational might. Studies have shown that America is no longer the educational utopia it once was, falling behind countries like Germany and Japan. It also emerged as a potential solution to finally close the gap between the education received by low-income and that of high-income children, a move that would even the playing field come college application time.

As the cry for delay of implementation grows louder, so, too, does the questioning of who developed the Core for Rhode Island. Some college professors weren’t invited and remain unconvinced the new curriculum was fine-tuned by childhood experts. In response, now ex-Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist cited evidence of deep teacher involvement. As one of the biggest proponents of the Core, she was sure to bring in many educators from across the state to develop the standards into something that would work for the state and its children.

Tied to this is the fear that the standards will stifle teacher creativity, stealing away their freedom to teach. According to those behind it, the standards are a living document, designed to be flexible enough for each teacher to adapt it to his or her classroom.

No matter the acceptance or hatred of the Core, so far those against it are only asking for a delay, not a full blown reprieve. If educators can keep it in play for long enough to deliver proof that it works, there’s a good chance Rhode Island won’t join the number of states already pulling out.

02 Aug

New Jersey’s Two-Faced Core Conundrum

New Jersey was a part of the first wave of Common Core adopters, agreeing to take them on June 23, 2010 with full implementation by the 2013-14 school year. While their ambition matched that of all the other states that were promised potential access to the $4.35 billion in “Race to the Top” grants, the state’s tune has changed dramatically the closer it has gotten to election year, and the more assured Governor Chris Christie is of running for Presidency.

The Typical Evolution

New Jersey isn’t a special case by any means. It adopted the Core, probably tempted by grant money more than interest in the future of its students, then began integration over the course of the five years since. There have been proponents. There have been opponents. However, even as recent as 2004, the Board of Education remained steadfast in its support of these new standards. As it was to turn out, the start of 2015 cast the Core in a different light.

Political Bias

As of May 2015, Governor Christie no longer supports the Core, promising the state that it will completely pull out once New Jersey standards are developed by the end of the year. According to him, the Core has caused nothing but five years of turmoil that has ripped apart the community, leaving frustrated parents distanced from teachers. News sources are quick to point out that this change has only come around the same time as his grab for the Republican nomination. Even with this, that’s not all that seems a bit off.

Christie, though now a firm opponent of the Core, is only confusing the parents he decried as frustrated by sticking with the PARCC, the yearly assessment that grades students on their aptitude regarding Common Core standards. While odd, Christie did explain that the only way to not lose federal funding was to stick with PARCC. In truth, the government requires yearly statewide testing, but it certainly doesn’t have to be with a test devoted strictly to standards Christie seems determined to dismiss.

The public is very much of this same opinion. Though New Jersey’s Board of Education is rolling with the punches as best as it can, it was more than happy to call out Christie’s hypocrisy. To them, if he truly wants to purge the state of the Core, he needs to get rid of everything tied to it. They even go so far as to point to PARCC as the main problem, not the standards themselves.

An Unsure Future

The debate will no doubt continue until the coming election finishes. Until that happens, however, New Jersey will remain a hotbed of outspoken politicians calling each other out on hypocrisy and flip-flopping while the actual effect on the students and teachers will continue to go ignored just like it always has.

28 Jul

Minnesota and the Partial Core

Since 2010, Minnesota has been using the English Language Arts aspect of the Common Core. However, using only half means they don’t officially count as a state that has adopted the Core. No matter the denotation Minnesota is given, though, it has no doubt shown better than almost every other state that the new standards are as adaptable and versatile as they have been promoted to be.

Their English, Our Math

When the state was first presented with the new standards, they immediately jumped on the English portion, readily agreeing that it was much more rigorous when compared to their previous standards. As for math, the state had already put into practice in 2008 a far more challenging curriculum that they believe asks for more than the Common Core does. While it meant a split, it nevertheless serves as an example that states are free to choose what they need to best serve their students.

Since English has come into implementation, the students are facing a much changed face of the subject. Instead of memorization by rote, they are asked to analyze and assess text, a practice that better prepares them for tackling English in the real world. In the same vein, the tests have strayed far from the multiple choice options where educated guesses could much improve a score. Now, test questions serve as ways to really find out if the students understood what they read.

Possibly Lower Scores

Three years after English was adopted, the Common Core test was implemented. While that signaled full integration, it also led to a letter being sent home to parents, warning them of the likelihood of lower test scores. With a completely new format testing a different set of abilities, it only maked sense that Minnesota would follow other states like Kentucky by reporting much lower scores through the first year or two. Instead of causing mass panic, however, Minnesota recognized that its parents were very involved in their childrens’ grades, leading to the letter explaining just why the possibility of lower scores wasn’t a bad thing so much as a growing pain.

Quiet Disdain

As with all states, Minnesota has its share of opponents, decrying the Core as nothing more than a government-led way to slowly but surely grab control of the school systems. Educators are taking this with a grain of salt, happy to explain the actual purpose to those with said fears. To the teachers, it’s a way to bring their students up to global standards by improving their education through harder subjects that they know their students can handle.

While many states are already fully integrated into the core, Minnesotan educational leaders are still taking it in stride. They realize that while a positive change, there’s still a full decade ahead of the nation before it knows if the standards are doing what they promised.

18 Jul

Exemplary Common Core Rollout in Vermont

In only one other state has Common Core been adopted and then treated with respect in regards to its effect on the students and teachers. Vermont joined the many adopters on August 17, 2010 with the goal to see a full integration by the 2013-14 school year. While mistakes have been made along the way, the state is a far cry from the outrage felt in other states.

Handling it Like Adults

While Vermont is full of proponents and opponents alike, the main focus has always remained on the children. Because of this almost tunnel vision view of the adoption, even the opponents are happy to go through with the change even though they still await evidence to see if it’s as wonderful as the proponents believe it will be. For the most part, however, educators are on board, seeing the new standards as a relevant way to prepare their students for college and the real world.

To Vermont, the Common Core was a welcome change, replacing antiquated curricula that varied dramatically across the small state. The leaders that adopted the change have kept in contact with the teachers across the state to make sure they’re comfortable with the shift as well. It’s this open dialogue that has ended up saving Vermont from the debates now tearing apart other states.

Public Mistakes

Unfortunately, not everything had gone according to plan. The biggest mistake the state made was its poor communication with the public. Because of this, parents have a skewed take on the Core. While educators nevertheless hold workshops and invite everyone out to meetings, it seems to be coming a bit too late. Miscommunication has led to a somewhat troubling rift that will take some time to smooth over.

Differences in Preparation

Another challenge faced by the state falls on the readiness of each school. Though some were already hooked up to the internet and outfitted with all the latest technologies, many are struggling to find the resources to upgrade. On top of this, the state as implemented a “ready or not” approach that seems to have ignored the needs of the struggling schools.

In essence, the state believes it is the responsibility of each school and each individual teacher to prepare in time for full Core integration. The results have been predictable. Those educators that know how to plan in advance have been prepping since 2011 and are, currently, awaiting the go ahead. Those that are a bit lazier are now scrambling to pull together what they need to help the kids pass their new standardized test.

All in all, Vermont stands as a glowing example of the positive effect a continued stream of open dialogue has on implementing new standards. Though not an entirely perfect rollout, it nevertheless has staved off some of the more troublesome problems seen across the rest of the country.

08 Jul

Washington: Dedicated to Full Implementation of Common Core Standards

Though proudly standing as one of the most liberal states after only California, Washington has seen relatively little debate regarding Common Core implementation. Whether it’s because one of the biggest financial backers, Bill Gates, resides in the state or it was implemented as smoothly as it was in Montana, the only real opposition has occurred as a result of the snags that come with new, untested systems. Since July 20, 2011, Washington has turned out to be a strong supporter of the Core.

The Big Question—Testing

Though adopted a year later than most, Washington stuck by its ambition for full implementation by the 2014-15 school year. What this meant for the state was nothing hard. Teachers were very much on board with the change and have shown positive reactions to the increased challenge given to students. In truth, the only problem that’s plagued Washington educators has been the looming standardized test, known as Smarter Balanced.

Opponents stand against it because of the data showing no correlation between a student’s capability to succeed after graduation and the standardized test scores they are judged by when applying for colleges. Unfortunately, at the current moment, these scores are the only way to tell if standards are working or not.

To make this transition easier, Washington officials decided to forego the route taken by New Jersey and Idaho, that is to completely hold off the new exam altogether. Instead, the plan was to include the test alongside the other standardized exams as a way to acclimatize students to the new, technologically driven future. On top of this, the test would not make or break a student’s ability to graduate.

The Pause Button

With all that having been debated, in May, officials nonetheless spoke out against the Common Core test results. School chief Randy Dorn publically pleaded with the government to pause the test scores. On March 31, Dorn issued a waiver that would allow the scores to be published but would protect all Washington schools from suffering any kind of federal punishment should the scores be less than good.

The argument behind this is sound enough. It’s a new, tougher system, and both the kids and teachers need time to adjust professionally to meet the standards asked of them. The government would still be able to make recommendations as to how to improve those schools that fared the worst, but no other repercussions could be taken, like when the state lost some $40 million in federal aid money in 2014 for slights made against the No Child Left Behind Act.

Even though the test results loom large in everyone’s minds with the school season officially over, it is merely a small concern in the grand scope of issues the Common Core has faced. With such restricted opposition, educators have been able to dedicate ample time and resources toward making it work to the state’s advantage.

06 Jul

Uniquely Intense Debate for Common Core Standards in New Hampshire

Though a small state, New Hampshire has been embroiled in the Common Core debate so uniquely intense on the east coast since it adopted them July 13, 2010. From that day, it has met with nothing but a storm of conflict ripping through the states closest to DC. While it’s fought off a lot of naysayers over the past few years with some compromises, it nonetheless has had to put its foot down legally to keep the Core in place.

Veto Power

Earlier this year, Governor Maggie Hassan used her power to completely veto a bill that would have prohibited every school in New Hampshire from implementing the new standards. Named Bill 101, Hassan vehemently argued that such a bill would completely undercut the state’s aim to bring their students successfully into a 21st century work force. To her, the Core represents an innovative push into the future through modernized education akin to the standards upheld in Europe and Asia.

This is in retaliation to the growing voice of opposition that appeared around 2013. Those against it paint it as a federal scheme to undermine state control of education with the temptation of desperately needed federal money as the means to get states to sign on to an otherwise optional program. Instead of debasing the voices, Hassan appealed to them directly, asking them to not focus on the Core so much as the continued authority of the local districts over how the standards are implemented and taught.

Opting Out & Flexibility

Joining many other states to do so, New Hampshire, once a staunch voice against the practice, backtracked its ideals, passing Bill 603. This now allows parents to opt their children out of the standardized testing that accompanies Common Core. Like many states, though the new curriculum holds promise, the standardized testing does not. Seen as a long time hindrance to actual education, more and more parents are quick to save their children from the joke of standardized testing they once had to endure.

To combat this, New Hampshire then agreed to work to give their schools more freedom in regards to assessing student progress. While schools do need assessments to adhere to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the reluctance of parents to use Smarter Balance as the means by which their children are judged has forced the state’s hand. To go beyond the Common Core standardized test, New Hampshire is looking at both the SAT and ACT, two national tests that are actually used by the nation’s colleges to judge aptitude. With the Core aiming to make the children better ready for college, it would make sense that then applying that to tests that matter for their future careers should be the standard they seek to reach.

01 Jul

Economic Growth Hopes from Common Core in Maine

Unlike most of the other early adopters, Maine held out officially taking in Common Core until April 4, 2011. Even though a year later in enactment, opposition still arose in 2013 with the nationalization of concerns regarding the Core. While just as noisome as across the rest of the US, Maine is standing its ground against the onslaught of bills seeking to repeal the applied standards.

2014 Ballot

Adopted and implemented during the 2011 year, Maine became one of over 40 other states to agree to adhere to the Common Core standards initiative. While there were about two years of silence from the public, it was the Maine Equal Rights Center that spoke out first. In August of 2013, they declared that they would launch a petition campaign to repeal the curriculum. If it managed to collect enough signatures, 58,000, an option to fully repeal the standards would enter onto the November 2014 ballot. That many signatures would have also made it the first petition of its kind in the US. Though seemingly backed by a large amount of people, there were not enough to make it a reality, leaving the group defunct currently.

Former Governor Support

Not a few months later, former Governor, John McKernan Jr., went on record during a heavily attended conference of education to state that he very much supported the Common Core. In front of over 300 Maine educators, he declared his belief that the standards would have a positive impact on the educational lives of Maine’s students, allowing them a fighting chance at attending the best colleges around the world.

One of his main arguments was the benefit the Core could potentially have on the Maine economy. During 2013, there was a reported huge skills gap with many employers in every sector decrying the lack of skilled workers. By improving public schools, he argued, the economy would see the growth it was asking for.

Science Veto

It should be noted that Common Core only ever sought to upgrade English Language Arts and math. However, recent developments have introduced a science section. Unfortunately, current Governor Paul LePage gave his veto to a bill that would have required the implementation of Common Core science, citing budget restrictions in an already financially burdened time. While a fan of educational growth, LePage couldn’t justify forcing every school in Maine to rewrite their science curriculums.

Interestingly enough, many were disappointed. While English and math were certainly offensive enough to garner such statewide hatred, science certainly brought the two conflicting sides together, seeing this subjects as a way to foster job growth in Maine. Even still, current leaders are quick to point out that in about a year or two they plan on officially bringing in the science aspect of Common Core. Resources are stretched thin, and they need a bit more time.

29 Jun

Unique Consequences of Common Core in South Dakota

Of all the states to adopt Common Core, South Dakota has seen some of the most unique arguments of all the 45 states involved. Adopted November 29, 2010, the state senate has seen its fair share of bills trying to repeal the adoption altogether. As it becomes clearer that the state is going to stick with its decision to go with the Core, opponents are citing everything they can as reasons to prevent fixing it and promote flunking it.

Native American Suicide Rate

Above all the other arguments, tying the Common Core standards to increased Native American suicide rates is by far the most unique to South Dakota. Nowhere else has this argument come about. According to Republican Elizabeth May, the standards are stressing out an already taxed population of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She firmly argues that the curriculum puts way too much pressure on the students, resulting in many not even attending school in addition to teachers quitting under the increased pressure to perform.

Parent Fighting Testing

This recent school year saw the first influx of parents fighting to keep their kids from taking the standardized test, Smarter Balanced. Back in 2014, the state actually wrote a bill that would allow parents to opt their children out of the test. Unfortunately, it was defeated 8-7 in the House Education Committee. It appeared again in early 2015 and still met with defeat.

While the parents didn’t have legal support by the state to opt their children out of the test, many did it anyway. Be it because they were tired of all of the testing or through fear of federal takeover, a small percentage of South Dakotan parents kept their children home from school the days of the test. While they only represented a tenth of a percent in regards to the total population of the state, it nonetheless confused policy makers on how to react. Though there is no legal support for opting out, there’s nothing that tells schools or officials what to do when parents decide to go this route.

Common Core Survival

In amidst this hodgepodge of debate, legislation stands strong in support of their scholastic change. Earlier this year, House Bill 1223 journeyed through the House in an attempt to repeal the Common Core. Bolstered by the budget spent on it and the years teachers spent preparing, lawmakers basically forced it out of circulation by giving it a recommendation of “do not pass”. In reaction to this, they passed a statement declaring that they would defeat any other such bills trying to worm their way through the system. Opponents decried a lack of time to hear arguments against the standards, but the committee presiding the two hour event that featured parents, teachers and officials snapped back, telling them everyone had their chance and the hearing rules were followed.