By Mary O’KEEFE
Visit the campus of any college or university, or our local Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and it is obvious America is host to an international audience.
In addition, residents moving within the state and out-of-state have become more commonplace. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 100,000 more people moved out of California in 2011 than moved into the state.
Everything from education to business is becoming globalized and that is in part why 45 states have adopted Common Core State Standards for their education departments.
“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy,” the Common Core website states.
In what seems the American norm, few things are not politicized including whether this common standard is a unifying program or a step toward nationalizing education.
Critics are concerned that the standards were not voted on by either the people of California nor the state legislators; however, curriculum is normally decided by the state board of education and not brought to a vote.
“In California, the State Board of Education decides on the standards for all students, from kindergarten through high school,” according to the CDE website.
Locally, the Glendale Unified School District began a four-year transition to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the 2011-12 school year. The four-year transition allows the district to monitor the success, or problems, of the program.
“We have already begun [our] pilot [programs] with Common Core,” said Mary Boger, GUSD school board member.
Boger added CCSS is a way for schools throughout the nation to have a common foundation of what students should know at what levels.
Throughout the district, teachers have been trained in CCSS and have returned to the district prepared to help teach others.
“It will allow more critical thinking,” she said of the program. “This is what we want our kids to be – critical thinkers.”
The first voices against CCSS were primarily from the Tea Party, which fears the federal take-over of education.
“This has nothing to do with the federal government,” Boger said. “This is from the National Governors [Association Center for Best Practices], a bi-partisan [group].”
Boger pointed out that when the district was working under President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind educational program, all states, and districts, were to achieve certain benchmarks. The federal government set standards that had to be reached by districts, schools and states or lose their federal funding. The government for all states, without regard to the specific state standards, set these benchmark requirements.
“Massachusetts and California had the highest standards,” Boger said.
States with higher standards were to reach the same benchmarks as states with lower standards. States could adjust accordingly to keep their funding.
“So when it became apparent that Mississippi [for example] would not get to the [NCLB required benchmarks], they lowered their standards,” Boger explained.
CCSS, it is assumed, will level the playing field. This will, according to proponents, prepare students for college.
The standards will also prepare students for a trade school as well. Boger said this area of education has been ignored over the past few years. For students who do not want to go to a traditional college or university, she feels CCSS will better prepare those students for entering the workplace.
“But California is not lowering their standards [to meet others],” Boger said. She added if CCSS had lowered the standards, she is certain the California board of education would never have accepted it.
Implementation of CCSS has begun with English and math. The concern that has been reported from both conservative and liberal groups is that classic literature and fiction will be moved out in favor of technical manuals.
“It is a greater emphasis on nonfiction,” Boger said. “[However, students] will not be reading EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reports.”
Boger referred to a letter to the editor published in the July 25 edition of CVW that stated, “Classical literature will become limited and replaced with ‘informational texts’ (i.e. Environmental Protection Agency reports…..)”
“What we are talking about is history or biographies,” she said, taking issue with the EPA statement.
The history, she said, is to enhance the student’s critical thinking ability. For example, first reading about the Great Depression before reading John Steinbeck’s, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Testing will be part of the new standards, as it was with the old, but will not be simply a multiple-choice exam.
“The [student] will be asked to read something and then to write about it,” Boger said. “We hear again and again how important communication skills are.”
Boger said the ability to analyze a story and to communicate what the student has learned is a way to help improve the students’ communications skills.
The opponents of CCSS are also concerned about teachers’ ability to be creative and to have the freedom to teach a subject their way.
“Our teachers have a great deal of leeway,” Boger said. “We always appreciate the creativity of our teachers.”
She added the school board has always been and will continue to be the final say on textbooks and reading materials.
The district has discussed CCSS during its board meetings in the past and will continue to do so as it goes through the four-year transition.
CCSS still has to prove itself and will continue to be studied. Some states like Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Alabama have opted out entirely or have scaled back their involvement. For some this is due to the costs of tests at $29.50 per student; for others it’s due to concerns of federal impact on state education while others are facing political opposition.
One of the critiques about CCSS is that it paints all districts with one brush, which is the exact critique that was used for NCLB when it was first implemented. The difference with CCSS is that a state cannot lower its standards to be equal to others; instead, the country as a whole would rise to an equal level.