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Common Core, differing views

Standards aren’t perfect, but flaws are distorted

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George Neely

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There’s been a lot of talk and concern floating around Lodi as of late about the pending adoption of Common Core State Standards. The comments have ranged from insightful to inaccurate to just plain outlandish. And, as with many topics of late, there has even been a government conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

It’s time to take a look at the truth about CCS standards.

The concept behind CCS standards is to reduce the number of standards to those key tasks that students need in order to understand and work with more advanced concepts. The idea is that students will master these concepts and be able to apply them in different ways and in different situations. The tests involved with CCS standards are much more in-depth and require a true understanding of the standards. Those same tests are also designed to allow educators to pinpoint which standards need to be reinforced with that particular student.

As an example, if a student does poorly working with ratios on a test, is it because they don’t understand the concept of ratios, or is it because they have a problem with multiplication or division involved in the process? The Smarter Balanced Assessments that are used with CCS standards will be able to pinpoint the problem.

I like this approach. I believe that students who have a firm grasp of the basic concepts in math and English are far better prepared to tackle all subjects. I believe that when students have mastered these basic tools, their pathways are now open to pursue any career or course of study they choose. And I further believe that is the mission of K-12 public education.

While I like the concept of CCS standards, I have a problem with how they are being implemented. First, there is a lack of application data for the standards. The concept has not been adequately tested. Second, I don’t like the concept of changing all grade levels at one time. Standards are supposed to be the building blocks of a child’s education. Changing directions in the middle can mean that right blocks are not yet in place.

Finally, we are in the very early stages of getting our district finances back to where they need to be. We still have a long way to go in that aspect, as our funding is about $25 million less than it was five years ago, although indications are that we will get a portion of that back for next year. We need the opportunity to rebuild as our funds are reinstated.

Having said all of this, CCS standards will be implemented. The vast majority of our funding comes from the state, and they have set CCS standards as the ones that will be used.

Now, let me cover some of things that have been said about the CCS standards that fall somewhat short of the accurate mark. A small group of local activists who spoke at a school board meeting and have written Letters to the Editor have tried to portray other problems with the CCS standards. While I applaud their interest in public education, some of those claims are a little off-base.

For instance, there was letter to the editor that claimed it will cost $165 million for each district to implement CCS standards. That claim flies by ridiculous, leaps over absurd and lands squarely on ludicrous. I’m sure the writer got his “information” on some website that decries the horrors and dangers of Common Core State Standards. Sorry, not at all true.

What is the true cost of CCS standards? That depends on how you attribute the cost. Many of the expenses that people are trying to attribute to the conversion to CCS standards would have been realized regardless of the change.

As an example, we will have to upgrade our technology infrastructure to accommodate the new computer testing used with CCS standards — but this is something we would have done anyway, as the use of technology has grown and we have outgrown our current capacity. The improved infrastructure will be used on a daily basis for both teaching and teaching support, not just for testing.

There is also the cost of new textbooks for CCS standards. The first of the Common Core State Standards to roll out are English and math. We recently replaced our English texts for grades K-6 because of their age, and when we did, we made sure that the new ones support the CCS standards. No additional cost there.

When the standards come out in 2014, we will be in the sixth year of our current math program for kindergarten through sixth grade. That’s about the time we would normally roll out a new (textbook) adoption. The same can be said about our other subjects as well, as those tests are incorporated. So yes, we will be spending money on new texts — but that would have been done anyway.

We will spend some money training our people on the implementation of the standards. That is a direct cost associated with CCS standards. The standards are different and require a different approach to teaching them in order to get the best results. The governor and Legislature have agree to put $1.25 billion into the budget to cover some of those costs.

There has also been concern that afflicts so many new ideas, the inevitable government conspiracy theory. Truth is that the push for the development of CCS standards actually came from the states and the private sector, not the federal government. True, the feds have jumped on the bandwagon and unfortunately are using the financial leverage of Race to the Top funds, but it really doesn’t matter, as California had signed on to the concept well before the feds took their action.

The conspiracy theory also covers the so-called “Longitudinal Database” that some are worried about. The worry is that the federal government is collecting data beyond the scope of what is needed for education. The truth is that the information to be collected is nothing more than is currently being collected and used by statisticians to determine the effectiveness of education programs and to help us look for problems and successes. It’s been around for years and is not just something that came about with CCS standards.

Finally, I have been amused as some have called for LUSD not to implement CCS standards even though this is mandated by the state. They have made comments like: “Good thing the patriots who fought during the Revolutionary War didn’t say, ‘Oh, it’s a mandate from the king, we have no choice.’” Or the other one I loved: “Politicians should get a spine.”

I would like to reply here in writing, that if the implementation of CCS standards was on the magnitude of the Revolutionary War, I would be the first in line to do battle with the king. However, as a war veteran, I can tell you from experience that the battle over CCS standards doesn’t even come close. Sorry to rain on your hyperbole.

Further, let me make it clear that because someone does not buy into your irrational fears and/or believe your ridiculous misinformation it does not mean they don’t have a spine. Actually, I have never before been accused of not having a spine. Usually it’s quite the opposite, and I’m asked to tone it down some.

The whole idea of not instituting the CCS standards is frankly just ridiculous. CCS standards are what the state will be using to determine the effectiveness of our educational programs. The old STAR test is going away after next year. If we did what these “activists” are suggesting, the test scores of Lodi schools would plummet, as we teach one thing and the state tests another. It could even lead to our schools being taken over by the state. Lodi would become known for inferior schools and that would not only hurt our students’ future education choices, but would also have an adverse impact on the entire city.

Common Core State Standards are coming, and we will do our best to make sure our students are successful.

George Neely is Lodi Unified School District trustee.

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