Op-Ed: Common Core can be a success for our children

Lively debate on issues of importance to Connecticut citizens is essential to a strong democracy. Unfortunately, the debate around Common Core has been rife with misinformation, and the majority of criticisms from detractors are not based on fact.  While I understand that the opposition has a point of view, I believe it is important to refute arguments that are simply not true, especially in defense of standards intended to make our children’s education more rigorous and competitive.

Take, for instance, an Op-Ed published in the CT Mirror on Oct. 6 titled “Common Core takes the joy out of teaching.” The Op-Ed argues that classroom teachers were “deliberately excluded” from the process of developing the standards. This is blatantly untrue.

Op-ed submit bugIn the development of the Common Core, teachers served on the Work Groups and Feedback Groups for the standards; then, feedback from teachers was collected by organizations such as the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Council of Teachers of English; then, state teams—including teachers—provided further feedback on the draft of the standards. Finally, teachers participated in two public comment periods, which had over 10,000 comments.

It just isn’t true that teachers weren’t participants in the process of developing the Common Core.

The Op-Ed also suggests that the assessments aligned with the Common Core will drastically increase the amount of time spent on testing, and the impact of testing. This is also untrue.

The new Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) will replace Connecticut’s CMT and CAPT exams—because standardized tests are a waste of time if they are not aligned with current standards.

Before Common Core, grades 3-8 spent approximately 7 hours of instructional time on the CMT; SBAC is anticipated to take between 7 and 8.5 hours. Neither is a significant time investment in obtaining benchmarks for our students.

Perhaps the most disturbing assertion in the Op-Ed is that Common Core does not treat students with dignity. The whole point of the Common Core is to raise standards to a level that is respectful of the time and work that our students put into their academic careers. When they complete what we’ve asked of them in school, they should be ready to succeed.

Without standards, students’ time spent on education can sometimes lack dignity.  For example, a recent presentation by the Education Trust  illustrates the stark contrast between expectations set for two different groups of 7th graders.

The first writing assignment asks that students organize an essay on Anne Frank by analyzing the psychological and intellectual challenges she faced; the second is a fill-in-the-blanks-style assignment where 7th graders are asked to provide arbitrary information about themselves (“My name,” “My best friend,” “A chore I hate”).

Clearly one of these assignments treats its 7th graders with more dignity and respect. We need standards, so that we can start off each year with goals for our students, rather than wasting their time with unfocused curricula that lack coherence year-to-year.

As a father, an educator, and a citizen of Connecticut, I am frustrated by the spreading of misinformation about Common Core. I hope you are too.

If we’re being honest, the real problems that some teachers face as a result of Common Core are (1) imperfect implementation, and (2) fear of being evaluated based upon the new tests. The former is a perfectly reasonable concern. Common Core has not been rolled out in a carful and strategic manner. But an imperfect rollout does not mean that Common Core is a bad idea itself.

The second problem —the fear of testing— may be a reasonable fear, but it actually has nothing to do with the Common Core. In 2012, Connecticut adopted a new system for educator evaluation and support, in which 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based upon growth in assessments. Regardless of your personal opinion on the efficacy of that policy, the role that assessments play in evaluations is unrelated to standards.

If we hadn’t adopted Common Core, we would be using a different test for this part of evaluations.

The new standards are not a panacea, but they are a good idea. It makes sense to set high, uniform goals so that we know kids are learning what they should be learning every year. Instead of getting embroiled in politicized rhetoric, let’s collaborate to make things better for kids.

Common Core can be a success for our children, our teachers and our state if we all work together.

Jeffrey Villar is executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, and the former superintendent of Windsor Public Schools.

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