The Times West Virginian

July 7, 2014

Common Core prepares students for college and careers

By Jessica Farrish

BECKLEY —

 As West Virginia school districts are set to fully implement Common Core standards in August, many local parents have questions about Common Core and changes to local curriculum.

What is Common Core?

The website www.corestandards.org reports that “Common Core State Standards” is a national educational initiative that sets “clear” learning goals to prepare students in kindergarten through 12th grade for college and career.

“Learning goals” are standards that students are expected to meet at every grade level.

When students graduate from high school under Common Core, they should be ready for college or a career, according to the website.

Who developed Common Core?

According to www.corestandards.org, Common Core was developed primarily by state education officials and governors in 48 states through the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, R-Ga., and Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del., led the panel.

Consultants who helped the governor’s association develop Common Core, along with other advisory groups, were paid in grants through the nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to The Huffington Post.

The Washington Post reported that The Gates Foundation spent $20 million in helping agencies develop the standards.

Teachers, including those represented by the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and National Council of Teachers of English, served on work groups and gave feedback for the English and math standards.

Parents, school administrators, experts and state leaders all “provided input” into developing the learning goals, according to data on the website.

The Obama administration did not participate in Common Core development but is a strong supporter.

How was it developed?

According to the website, Common Core goals were built on the best state standards in the United States. Developers also looked at high-performing countries around the world.

Why was it developed?

Technology has connected the world, and students will need to be able to collaborate and compete with students in other countries and states in the current and future job market, according to www.corestandards.org information.

“(Students aren’t) just competing for jobs in Fayette County and West Virginia, but for jobs around the world,” said Robert Hull, West Virginia Department of Education assistant superintendent. “They’re connected with people around the world.

“We need to empower our students to take advantage of the opportunities I’d only dreamed of having when I exited school 40 years ago.”

On the latest Program for International Student Assessment, American students ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, when compared to students in other countries.

Common Core also provides uniform standards for students in different states by letting state officials work together to develop textbooks, teacher tools and digital media.

This means that a student in West Virginia, theoretically, will have an equitable educational standard when compared to a student in the top-ranked Massachusetts school system, or in the Netherlands.

Do states have to accept Common Core?

No. States may choose whether to adopt Common Core standards.

Initially, every state except Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Minnesota adopted the standards.

Since then, Utah, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Florida and Louisiana have opted out of Common Core, according to www.truthinamericaneducation.com.

On Wednesday, the North Carolina House of Delegates passed a plan to replace Common Core standards.

The West Virginia Board of Education adopted Common Core in June 2010, and it will be fully implemented in 2014-15.

Although adoption is voluntary, students in states that don’t teach to Common Core standards could be at a disadvantage on standardized tests, because the SAT, ACT and AP exams are currently being aligned with Common Core.

To offset this disadvantage, education officials in the “opt-out” states are developing state standards around Common Core goals but are not officially participating in Common Core.

No federal money supports Common Core, but states that chose to participate were recently awarded points toward gaining a portion of $3.45 billion in federal Race to the Top grants.

However, nonparticipating states were still eligible, according to federal guidelines.

Counties in Core states may opt out of Common Core. Harrison County district board members voted Wednesday to submit a waiver for Common Core mathematics standards.

How does Common Core compare to No Child Left Behind?

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a current federal initiative that requires states to participate for federal funding unless they obtain a waiver, while Common Core are standards that states may adopt voluntarily.

Critics say the philosophy of both NCLB and Common Core is to use education to prepare students for the workforce and that both systems focus too heavily on testing.

Hull said, however, that comparing NCLB to Core is like comparing “apples to oranges.”

“NCLB didn’t have anything to do with standards,” he said. “NCLB had to do with assessment and how people did on a test.

“NCLB was not necessarily about students being college and career ready,” he added. “It was more about students doing well on an assessment.”

Since 2011, the Obama administration has allowed states, including West Virginia, to get waivers opting out of NCLB.

In exchange for those waivers, state policy-makers had to adopt parts of the Obama administration education agenda of “college- and career-ready standards” and grading teachers using student test scores.

States that adopted Common Core standards were given waivers from NCLB.

What is the “Common Core curriculum”?

Although there is no official “Common Core curriculum,” many parents and teachers use this term to describe textbooks and educational digital media that are designed to align with Common Core objectives.

Under Common Core, each state is responsible for implementing Common Core standards into a state curriculum. In West Virginia, policy-makers and 100 teachers have developed the West Virginia Next Generation Content Standards, the “state version” of Common Core standards.

Each local school and district will be responsible for making sure that their students meet West Virginia Next standards, which will, in turn, ensure that students meet Common Core standards.

A group of West Virginia math and language art teachers have been commissioned to find “gaps” in instructional materials that could prevent students from meeting NGC standards. In those cases, the West Virginia contracts with classroom teachers across the state to create learning materials to “fill the gaps.” Those materials will be posted on the Teach21 site so all teachers may access them.

Will students still take standardized tests?

Students will no longer take WESTEST II but will take a Smarter Balanced assessment, a multi-state assessment based on Core standards, beginning in spring 2015.

Jessica Farrish is a reporter for the (Beckley) Register-Herald.