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October 21, 2014

Common Core State Standards

BY CARL JONES, DIRECTOR OF CURRICULUM, DARKE COUNTY ESC

The anti-CCSS groups have made a lot noise about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and emotions tend to run high and bury any rational discussions around the topic.  Standards have been around for about 20 years now and are nothing new.  They are necessary to ensure that we are teaching the concepts that are most important for students.  Even in a subject like mathematics, what we know about learning and what is most important to learn, IS changing.

The argument that we have somehow sacrificed our local control is hollow.  For the past twenty years, no one (school districts, school boards, stakeholder, or parents) seemed to mind letting the state of Ohio dictate what must be taught. Now that a consortium of states agree on a document we become fearful of losing a control that we never really had. In all these discussions I have never heard anyone looking at these standards say there were things listed that they don’t want their children to learn.

The other point that must be made is there is a difference in standards and curriculum.  The CCSS state what topics should be taught and at what grade level.  How these topics are taught, the resources (books, tools, environment, etc) that are used, and the lessons taught are all decided by people at the local level.  This is the level where the science and magic of learning actually happen.

If Ohio rejected these standards tomorrow, the Ohio Department of Education would need to hire an additional team of consultants.  They would write our own Ohio standards and I am confident that, except for a few minor changes, the standards would look just like CCSS.  The anti-CCSS groups would be happy having won their cause and it would cost Ohio millions of dollars and isolate us from the rest of the nation as they move forward.  We will get to see this process in action as the Indiana legislature has rejected CCSS and will begin the process of developing their own standards.

These standards are not perfect and I expect they will be revised and updated again.  We have been running on about a ten-year cycle on standards revision.  However, I am encouraged when I realize these current sets of standards are similar to other high performing nations in the world. People criticize this process of updating and changing, but as we learn more about education and learning it is only natural to make this process malleable enough to adapt to the current times.

The Darke County ESC has spent the last four years working with our schools training teachers on the implementation of these new standards.  The resources we have available are growing exponentially because of many states working together for the same goal.  I often use great curriculum resources from Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Kansas, and many other states.  They, in turn, are using resources from Ohio.  Why would anyone think that isolating our state is a good idea when we need to compete on an equal basis with other states?

I know there is also the backlash that the federal government is doing this to us.  The money they gave states in the Race to the Top initiative probably did more harm than good.  Until then, the federal government had stayed out of this initiative.  By using money to influence states to adopt the CCSS it is seen as just one more way the federal government is trying to trump state’s rights.  However, this cannot be a good reason to throw a valuable document like CCSS and all the work and money already spent on the transition out the window.  Please let reason prevail.

Notice that I have NOT talked about the assessment of the students on these, or any other, standards.  Another thing that often muddies the water is that people often clump several issues together and take a stand for or against.  Assessment, though related to these standards, is a different and complex issue of its own.  Teaching standards, as important as they are, is just one of a myriad of issues that educators deal with on a daily basis.  These issues are all different, yet related, and  need to be judged on their own merit and how they affect all the other parts of this complex system we call education.

(To help discern myth from fact regarding the CCSS, visit http://thecommoncore.com/myths on the web.)

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