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Common core spurs debate

The “Common Core State Standards” is a phrase heavily used in academia. After 45 states adopted the Common Core, school systems across the country have been making the transition to a curriculum aligned with the national set of standards. These standards are designed to prepare students for college and careers and compete in a global economy, according to the Common Core State Standards’ website.

But while that may be the goal some experts have criticized the national initiative, including claims that Common Core is not helpful to students in early grades.

The standards outline what a student should know by the end of each grade. It was adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010. For the past two years, school systems have been aligning the lessons they teach with the Common Core standards.

At the moment, there are only standards for mathematics and English. Within each grade level is a list of standards the students have to meet. For example, kindergartners should know how to count to 100 by ones and tens, and be able to name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story, according to the Common Core website.

“With Common Core, the big difference is there’s more depth in what students are learning in each grade level,” said Wallingford School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo. “... There are less concepts being taught at each grade level, but there’s definitely an advantage.”

Before the Common Core was adopted, Menzo said teachers were incorporating too many concepts into one school year.

Menzo and other area superintendents gave their full support for the Common Core initiative last month as a state-wide group opposing Common Core was meeting in Wallingford. The meeting sponsored by “Stop Common Core in CT” drew 25 people, including Tom McMorran, the principal of Joel Barlow High School, which serves the towns of Easton and Redding. McMorran was named the state’s principal of the year by the Connecticut Associations of Schools in 2012.

“What we’re being told is that only Common Core can save us,” McMorran told the meeting. “So many kids are being told they have to be the best in test taking when they should really be the best at innovating.”

He is one of many educators that are questioning whether every school system in the country should be striving for a national standard that is open to debate.

Edward Miller, an education writer and researcher specializing in early development education, said asking a kindergarten student to know how to count to 100 is “nuts.”

“There’s no research backing this up — that is literally true,” said Miller, who co-authored a critique of Common Core in the Washington Post earlier this year. “No one studied the question of kindergarten kids needing to know how to count to 100.”

Miller’s co-author Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita of early childhood education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., expressed her concerns last week in a phone interview with the Record-Journal.

“The Common Core State Standards don’t reflect how children learn and don’t reflect the developmental progression children go through in the learning process. ... We’re putting an unfair and inappropriate expectation on children,” she said.

Menzo understands these concerns. To effectively teach the standards, educators are “striking a balance between an appropriate level of content that’s being disseminated to children at an early age,” he said.

“The Common Core is a rigorous document,” he continued. “I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever as an educator.”

Aside from the lack of research backing up the standards, Carlsson-Paige said a deeper problem is that there is “no child development to support it and no neuroscience research to support it.”

With more of a focus on certain concepts, the standards allows teachers “to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well — and to give students the opportunity to master them,” according to the Common Core website.

“There’s a big push for reading in kindergarten, but there’s no research that shows that’s advantageous,” Carlsson-Paige said. “We should be teaching a 5- or 6-year-old at a developmental level in literacy. They should not be expected to read at that age. It’s not an appropriate standard.”

Miller and Carlsson-Paige also found the creation of the standards problematic. The standards were created by the National Governors Association and the Council of the Chief State School Officers, and were based off of standards in other countries, according to Common Core website.

Despite the concerns about Common Core, many educators find merit in the standards. Michael Votto, a member of the Wallingford Board of Education and principal of St. Aedan-St. Brendan Catholic School in New Haven, said his school isn’t required to incorporate Common Core in the curriculum.

Despite this, Votto said he makes an effort to purchase textbooks that “infuse Common Core” because it “develops more critical thinking skills and it’s supposed to be more rigorous.”

He agreed that some of the standards seemed to be “reaching a little bit high,” but while it may be rigorous Votto said the Common Core State Standards benefit students nationwide.

“The best thing is the whole country is on the same page,” he said. “Some states don’t have a great educational system ... at least everyone is going to be teaching things at the same grade level.” (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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