In the second of five weekly questions, the Vanguard asked: What do you know of Common Core? How is Common Core being implemented in Davis? What do you think should be done to further implement Common Core in Davis?
Common Core is a distinct move away from the more rote-based modes of learning and, understandably, there is a lot of uncertainty and concerns by parents in what that means for their child’s education. While there is broad agreement that the departure from teaching-to-the-test approach that was compelled by No Child Left Behind is a good thing, there is currently little consensus on whether or not Common Core is a net improvement. I think the emphasis by Common Core on developing critical thinking and creative problem solving skills is clearly superior to an approach that relies more on reciting memorized facts as a solution in and of itself. Sure, there are still certain immutable elements to solving a problem, such as mathematical algorithms or known biological processes, but it is essential to higher order thinking to understand the hows, whys, and the variety of ways of getting to a solution rather than just mechanically going through the taught steps.
In this way, Common Core doesn’t leave the barn door open on what constitutes a correct answer to a question, it just focuses more on the process for getting to evidence-based solutions through a variety of approaches, taking into account different learning styles, and applies a more interactive or collaborative approach to learning and problem solving. And the state standards are more of a floor than ceiling. For example, the math standards focus on mastery of fewer subject areas overall, but integrates across topics in a more seamless fashion. It’s up to the school district to formulate and implement the curriculum, and this provides tremendous flexibility for the Davis community to shape a more localized vision of quality public education. There are many steps and much work ahead to successfully implement Common Core in DJUSD. It will require clear communication of what it is, how the new standards compare to the old, and a plan for where the district is going with ample opportunity for input from the community during the implementation process.
I first heard about Common Core in more depth two years ago when my children’s elementary principal led us through a PowerPoint presentation she had created on the curriculum changes to come.
Since then, I have read every article I could about the Common Core. Last year, the district (with funds from the state) readied our school computer labs for Common Core testing. Students at a few schools in Davis took a pilot test of the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). Common core math pathways were introduced to the general public at a number of meetings.
From what I know, the Common Core aims to promote critical thinking – the “why” of a topic. In a recent article in the Enterprise, a district staff member gave the example of a student learning about why the War of 1812 took place and its political implications rather than memorizing a few key figures and battle names.
I am cautiously optimistic about Common Core and its roll out.
I have talked with a number of teachers who would like more professional development opportunities with regard to Common Core. This support is critical for the program to succeed.
Common Core math is confusing to parents lessening the ability to provide support at home. This concerns me too.
For this new program to be successfully adopted, we need to do as much outreach and training as we can.
We are only a few weeks into school, so we do not yet know how the curriculum changes will be received and fully implemented, but I am hopeful that our district can roll this program out well.
I am quite familiar with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and several of the controversies surrounding them. While the idea of CCSS raises the ire of many, few dispute the importance of the underlying content knowledge and cognitive skills that CCSS embody. It is important to point out that the standards are not a curriculum, but a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills best prepare our students for college and vocational career success. CCSS focus on mathematics and English language arts and literacy. In California a complimentary set of standards pertaining to science skills (Next Generation Science Standards or NGSS) is also beginning to be implemented. With regard to the implementation of CCSS in our District, an excellent summary can be found in a recent Davis Enterprise story (Common Core: A new way to learn, September 28, 2014).
Fundamentally, I believe that the CCSS are needed to provide our students with the skills necessary to compete in a global economy. However, in several important respects, the “cart was put before the horse” in that the CCSS are being implemented before many teachers feel that they are adequately prepared for the change and before CCSS-aligned and critically evaluated teaching materials are available. Although not unique to the DJUSD, communication with parents about CCSS has been spotty. I attended a DJUSD informational session on CCSS-aligned junior high school math courses this past summer. Many parents had unanswered questions concerning math pathways that would follow in high school, so, at the time, there did not seem to be a coherent plan from 7th through 12th grades. The evaluation of instructional materials for their adherence to CCSS will take some time as well; concerns have been raised that large, for-profit educational companies are merely rebranding their old materials and selling them as “CCSS aligned” in the rush to market their products. I believe that the CCSS should have been phased in more gradually, starting with early elementary grades and adding one grade per year. The fairness of suddenly changing instructional models and assessment tests for secondary students is a concern that I have heard expressed by several parents and I don’t believe that these concerns have been adequately addressed by the District.
Obviously, a short discussion of CCSS can’t cover all the relevant ground. The DJUSD, from my observations, is doing as well can be expected with regard to implementation, although much additional work remains. It will take continued effort and diligence to make the promise of CCSS a reality. Patience will be needed.
When adopting the California Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, the State Board of Education acknowledged that, as a Program Guideline, under Education Code section 33308.5, such is descriptive only and are not “mandatory”.
This caveat allows recognizes that different school districts have different needs, and allows each school district certain discretion on how to meet the goals outlined in the Standards.
The Standards for Mathematics looks to make students proficient in using and understanding Math to prepare the student for “college and career”. To put it simply, it is not enough to “know” that 2+2=4. It is just as important to understand why 2+2=4. As for the Standards for English Language Arts etc, idea is to assess the acquisition by the student of “fundamentals”, and are not intended “to set out an exhaustive list” that limits what should be taught. As the Department states in the Introduction to the Standards, see, http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/finalelaccssstandards.pd
“The Standards ….cannot enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum…”.
This being said, the DJUSD has developed a plan to implement the Standards consistent with the needs of our students. That plan is being implemented, and the details of which are accessible from the District Office. Unfortunately, whether or not this has been successful may be determined at the end of the school year when test results become available. Those results will allow our community to refine our implementation plan. As the Superintendent of Public Instruction noted: “Implementation of the California Common Core Standards will take time and effort.”
We need to approach the Common Core with common sense. Like most of the states in the nation, California has adopted the Common Core standards. But as we implement the new standards, we can’t ignore common sense in the process.
There is a great deal of understandable anxiety among parents and students about the new methods for learning math and other subjects. Parents are sometimes finding themselves as bewildered as their children when asked to help with homework. Rollout of Common Core in other states has been imperfect and we are already finding the same here in California and Davis. Some parents and educators share that some classes do not yet have their Common Core math textbooks one month into school.
There’s no reason to put children one month behind in math. Did we order from the wrong publishers, or not in a timely fashion? Are the books not yet available at all? Whatever the reason for the delay in obtaining books, the district must step in in the meantime to support teachers by helping to locate materials online or elsewhere so students are learning math without losing precious time for developing and practicing their knowledge and skills.
I will insist on Common Core rollout that is responsible, balanced, independent and technologically prepared.
(1) Responsible rollout. There are currently limited state funds to train teachers to teach Common Core standards, which emphasize critical thinking and problem solving over rote learning. Our district like other districts has been largely limited to a “train the trainer” approach, whereby only a handful of teachers are trained and are then expected to train other teachers. I would insist on close communication with teachers through this transition phase. Do teachers feel the training and support they are receiving is adequate, or are more individualized training opportunities needed? If so, we need to prioritize additional teacher training. Supporting teachers and providing adequate professional development should be a district priority, as this is a key for student success.
(2) Balance. We must have a balanced approach to Common Core rollout. Moving wholesale from one approach to an entirely different one may not be fair to students, or to teachers. We must be cautious in moving to new report card standards before ensuring that the teachers are effectively teaching the new curriculum.
(3) We must be independent and maintain local control. Our leadership in Davis must be able to take an objective, independent approach to Common Core rollout. We must have local control and not be beholden to the state bureaucracy on issues where we have discretion. We should be free to disagree with the state when we think that parts of the Common Core are not working for our children.
(4) Technological readiness. California will begin testing our students with new computerized Smarter Balanced Assessments next spring. Why are the tests “smarter”? The tests are designed to respond to each individual test-taker. If a student answers a question correctly, the test responds with more difficult questions, or with easier questions after incorrect responses. We must insist that all of our computers are in working order, that students are provided enough instructional and practice time on the devices, and that students who need accommodations for language or learning disabilities are served. Students without opportunities to use technology at home must be given additional support.
Again, our guiding approach to the Common Core has to be common sense.
At press time, we did not receive answers from Tom Adams or Jose Granda