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November 19, 2013 > WhatÕs all the fuss about Common Core?

WhatÕs all the fuss about Common Core?

By Miriam G. Mazliach

ThereÕs been a lot of buzz around ÒCommon Core State StandardsÓ (CCSS) and yet many parents and students who are most directly impacted by it are still puzzled. To help alleviate fears and clear up misconceptions, school districts have held workshops and informational meetings for interested students, parents and community members.

Essentially, Common Core is the new K-12 educational direction, with benchmarks for English and Math, in 45 states and Washington D.C. In order for states to receive RTTT (Race to the Top) grant funds or NCLB (No Child Left Behind) waivers, they must follow Common Core Standards. Introduced in 2009 and adopted in 2010, the standards focus on analytical thinking and problem solving, shifting from rote learning and memorization. Before 2010, each state set its own set of educational standards.

To prepare for implementation of the standards, teachers have been learning new curricula and adjusting lesson plans. Educators will continue professional development throughout the school year and textbooks, aligned with the new standards, have been published. In California, the State Board of Education determines the standards for all students, while the stateÕs Department of Education assists schools to ensure that all students meet them.

The intent of Common Core is to provide equitable education throughout participating states. Standards are designed to be rigorous and reflect real world skills for success at college or in the workplace.

ÒTo ensure that our students are college and career ready, the implementation of the Common Core State Standards is one major effort in achieving a more common and coherent vision of educational purpose,Ó says Deborah Sims, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for Fremont Unified School District. ÒThe new standards provide fewer, clearer and higher expectations for learning across grade levels in English language arts and math as well as providing guidance for understanding how students learn in a progressive manner along skill strands.Ó

English classes, at elementary and secondary level, will focus on learning how to access knowledge and determine the meaning of materials rather than lecturing. Students will learn more about text components such as: the index, glossary, etc., to understand the significance of the content. Common Core emphasizes use of grade level text (i.e. fifth grader students using fifth grade text) and the ability to explain how and what was learned. Students with learning issues and English Language Learners (ELL) will require assistance and accommodations for new computerized testing.

In other subject areas, there will be more focus on reading for understanding. In science, for example, students will Òread as a scientist,Ó seeking content knowledge. In all subjects, the focus will be on reading multiple texts, making connections and comparing and contrasting information. Academic language and vocabulary associated with various disciplines will be of greater importance as well as informational writing with less emphasis on personal essays. Junior high and high school students will focus on communication Ð written and oral as well as advanced writing, research, digital resources and technology.

Common Core Standards require fewer topics at a given grade level, providing greater depth and focus. Algebra/Geometry will be introduced a bit earlier, providing a transition from algorithms (step-by-step calculations) to conceptual understanding; the goal to understand problem-solving. As an example, a number line can be used to illustrate the meaning of fractions.

At Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, Matt Wayne explains how his district has been handling the educational transition:

ÒHayward Unified School District (HUSD) is excited about Common Core and how it will challenge our students to be problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and prepared for 21st century success. HUSD is well along the path toward transitioning to Common Core,Ó states Wayne. ÒWe have developed an Instructional Framework that guides our transition. WeÕve provided professional development to all of our teachers and over 400 teachers attended 5-day summer institutes on Common Core. Students have started taking Common Core assessments this year already. WeÕre preparing students so that when they leave our schools they can say with pride that they were ÔMade in Hayward,ÕÓ says Wayne.

Newark Unified School DistrictÕs (NUSD) Sr. Director of Educational Services, Soleste Hilberg, Ph.D., says that Common Core has been and will continue to be the focus of much of the districtÕs work for years to come. ÒThe Newark Unified community of educators is excited to welcome the Common Core State Standards, with the hope that with the standards come an emphasis on supporting and developing student thinking, as opposed to the former emphasis on broad but too often thin coverage of a range of standards,Ó states Hilberg.

Last year Newark K-12 teacher representatives developed instructional units for English Language Arts aligned to the Common Core State Standards. These are currently being implemented continuing a District focus on literacy in all content areas. This year a mathematics coach is working with teachers in grades seven through twelve to develop Common Core pacing for eighth grade mathematics, Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II aligned to the Common Core Standards.

Although a shift to Common Core has begun, critics cite lack of local control and cost. Chris Thomas, assistant professor of Leadership Studies in the graduate School of Education at the University of San Francisco has researched urban education, K-12 administration, instructional leadership, special education, and family and community involvement. ÒCommon Core is a major cost in terms of professional development for leaders/teachers - new learning for everyone,Ó states Thomas. ÒWhile there is funding from the state, there are still large costs for districts in terms of the assessments and materials that it is not clear the funding will cover. The focus on Common Core can take the focus away from more substantial student issues that need to be addressed by policy makers.Ó

Others worry about testing and how results could affect their child. Some teachers might feel that they could be evaluated on their studentsÕ test results. However, in California, Gov. Brown signed AB 484 to prohibit release of English and Math testing results for at least the first year. The new Common Core test, selected for use by most districts in the greater Tri-City area is ÒSmarter BalancedÓ (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). With its introduction, STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) tests will come to an end. Federal education representatives are displeased with CaliforniaÕs decision to withhold initial testing results and have threatened to eliminate funding to the state.

Superintendent Molleen Barnes of Sunol Glen School District adds, ÒOur staff is filled with excitement along with a healthy dose of anxiousness as we recognize that the shift to Common Core truly supports the learning needs and style of our current students, known as the ÔC-GenerationÕ; and as such, it is our responsibility to meet the rigor level and their needs in readiness for 21st century college and career pathways.Ó

No matter what occurs, teacher and student effort and patience will be required to make a smooth transition to Common Core Standards. The benchmarks of high-achieving countries have helped to identify the basis for Common Core standards and the result may provide a level playing field for our children. For now weÕll have to wait and see.

Additional information about Common Core Standards is available at:
Math/California: ttp://

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