Saturday, December 20, 2014

Common Core ‘is what we’ve been waiting for’

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 9/2/2013

Late American journalist Roscoe Drummond once said, “The brain starts working the minute you are born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.”

Jeanne Stroh recited one of her favorite quotes when describing how Common Core State Standards would help students in every facet of their lives from learning how to write technical papers to speaking in front of large groups.

Late American journalist Roscoe Drummond once said, “The brain starts working the minute you are born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.”

Jeanne Stroh recited one of her favorite quotes when describing how Common Core State Standards would help students in every facet of their lives from learning how to write technical papers to speaking in front of large groups.

“Common Core is designed so kids are college and career ready by the time they graduate from high school with the skills they need in academics, critical thinking, problem solving, interpersonal, technical, social awareness, self-management, adaptability and public speaking — all those kind of things kids will need in the work place,” Stroh, superintendent of Ottawa schools, said. ”We’ve all worked with someone who might not have had one or more of those skills, and it’s difficult.”

Common Core State Standards, also known as College and Career Ready Standards, is a state-led effort coordinated by the national Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop standards that are aligned with college and work expectations in math, science, social studies, reading and writing, according to the Kansas Department of Education. Most states, including Kansas, started adopting Common Core in 2010.

The K-12 standards were developed through a collaborative effort of teachers, school administrators, researchers and other education experts across the country, according to the state education department.

“The idea was to come up with something really rigorous for our kids all across the country,” Stroh said. “Teachers, administrators and researchers worked together, and it took several years to design Common Core. The standards are research-based, and teachers were very involved — there should be no standards that teachers don’t have a say in.”

Since Common Core was first introduced, it has swept across the country, Stroh said.

“I believe 48 states have adopted the [Common Core] standards so far,” Stroh said. “With these standards, a fourth-grader from California should have the same background knowledge as a fourth-grader in Kansas, for example. And that hasn’t always been the case.

“The standards are designed so by the time a student graduates from high school — whether they are from Ottawa, Kansas City, Mo., or wherever — they will have the skills and abilities to attend a four-year college or university, a technical school, an apprenticeship, a certification program like welding or go into the military.”

Standard points

Common Core includes some of the following guidelines for English Language and Literacy:

• Reading — Establishes a staircase of increasing complexity in what a student must be able to read, with progressive development of reading comprehension in classic and contemporary literature, as well as challenging informational texts.

“The standards ratchet up the reading requirements for each grade level, compared to the old standards,” Stroh said. “The expectations are much higher.”

• Writing — Focus on the ability to write logical arguments. Research is emphasized throughout the standards.

“Kids are required to write a lot of nonfiction and do some technical writing,” Stroh said. “In the old days, students were asked to write stories that they made up and so on — there’s not a lot of call for that in the world today.”

• Speaking and Listening — Require that students gain, evaluate and present increasingly complex information, ideas and evidence. Focus on academic discussion.

• Language — Grow vocabulary through a mix of conversations, direct instruction and reading. Prepare students for real life experience at college and in 21st Century careers.

Key points with the mathematics standards include:

• A solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals.

“The U.S. has not done so well in math and science,” Stroh said. “Researchers for Common Core worked on standards that would provide kids with a very sold foundation in number sense.”

For example, Stroh said, teachers used to explain numbers by using money and clocks.

“A nickel is bigger than a dime, but a dime is worth more, so that does not make sense to young kids,” Stroh said. “On a clock, you have a 12 at the top and a one right next to it, and that’s confusing to 5 and 6 year olds. So Common Core provides a strong foundation in number sense.”

• Build a foundation to successfully apply more demanding math concepts and procedures and move into application.

• In kindergarten, the standards follow successful international models and recommendations from the National Research Council’s Early Math Panel report.

• Procedural skills and conceptual understanding is stressed, with hands-on learning in geometry, algebra and probability and statistics.

• Middle school standards are robust, and high school standards call for the practice of applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges — emphasizing modeling and the use of mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations.

States that adopted Common Core State Standards currently are collaborating to develop common assessments that will be aligned to the standards and replace existing end-of-year state assessments. These assessments will be available in the 2014-2015 school year.

Common Core misconceptions

One common misconception about Common Core State Standards is that they are linked to the federal government, Stroh said.

“The federal government didn’t have anything to do with Common Core,” she said. “And it didn’t fund it in the beginning, and it doesn’t fund it now.”

Common Core standards are not taking the place of former federal No Child Left Behind legislation, Stroh said.

“I can see how some people might equate those, since No Child Left Behind has expired. ‘What’s taking its place? It must be Common Core because that’s what we hear about.’ But that’s not the case. They really have nothing to do with each other.”

Kansas lawmakers, including local legislators, have expressed differing viewpoints about Common Core.

“In theory, Common Core is one of those things that sounds good,” state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said during the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Listening Tour Aug. 24 at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. “It establishes a commonality between states on what our education will be for our high school students — on the surface. But if you start digging down, there’s more to it ... To me, the more local the decisions, the better. What suits our students in Ottawa, Kan., might not fit California. We have different needs.”

In contrast, state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said Common Core is intended to promote common educational standards and not a standardized curriculum.

“[The Common Core] is so that when a student leaves North Dakota, who moves to Kansas, will have the same ending set of skills that the students do in Kansas, so that they won’t be behind. ... The U.S. military is one of the biggest proponents of Common Core because so much of their command staff moves around the country.”

It was evident some attendees at the legislative event did not have an accurate understanding of Common Core, Lynda Alderman, Ottawa school board member, said.

“There was some misinformation, and it was clear that a lot of people do not understand [Common Core],” Alderman, a retired Ottawa elementary teacher, said during a school board meeting last week.

Ottawa teachers and administrators are using early release time on Wednesdays this school year to ensure they have the knowledge and resources to teach the new standards, Stroh said.

“This is such a big change, and teachers understand Common Core at different levels, just as we all do,” Stroh said. “That’s why early release Wednesdays are so important. Teachers need to have the time to drill down into the standards and understand them, so we make sure all the kids are getting the same information.”

The Ottawa district is still in the process of implementing Common Core, Stroh said.

“I think it will be a year or so before we really have it down,” she said.

Problem solvers

Stroh was former assistant superintendent of Hutchinson schools before being hired as the Ottawa school district’s top administrator in July and helped guide implementation of Common Core in Hutchinson.

“I have some instruments we can use with gap analysis,” Stroh said of her previous experience with implementing Common Core. “My background and being able to understand where teachers were in some of the more difficult spots [of implementation], I hope will be helpful. We are problem solvers, so we will get through it.”

Teachers in Ottawa have had the same positive reaction to Common Core as educators in Hutchinson, Stroh said.

“They all say, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is what we need to be teaching kids,”’ she said.

Stroh thinks students and parents also will embrace Common Core once it is fully implemented.

“I think the students are going to be very excited, because these aren’t the kind of standards where you sit at a desk and do a worksheet,” Stroh said. “Developing the skills [needed to meet Common Core] requires a lot of working in groups and using lots of technology. I think kids tend to disengage when they have to sit in rows and do worksheets, or do the same things all the time. This will require some project learning, and kids will be able to work together.”

Understanding the benefits of Common Core will make the rough patches during implementation more manageable for all those involved, Stroh said.

“Common Core provides a straight path in preparing students for after high school,” Stroh said.

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