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Common Core has been under scrutiny across the country. No one seems to know if there is an actual reason to be concerned or if it is just an over reaction from Tea Party members (The Republicans seem to be the most concerned with the implementation of Common Core). Mississippi State Auditor, Stacey Pickering, was on Supertalk MS this morning – The Paul Gallo Show – and discussed his thoughts on it. I encourage you to go online to Supertalk MS. They will have today’s broadcast in the archives within a day or two. Listen for yourself and start researching what all is being said about Common Core. Today, I want to discuss my opinion on it, what my research has found and what that means for Desoto County.

Desoto County signed on for Common Core a year ahead of everyone else. There was discussion that districts, that signed up to be part of the pilot program and a year ahead of everyone else, would receive additional federal funds. The question becomes here, did we sign up because it was best for our kids or just to get the money? Our district did NOT make the decision to adopt Common Core (the state did), but they made the decision to be part of the pilot program. Although it was a state decision to adopt Common Core, do not underestimate the influence our county has in the statewide decision making process. With at least 2 lobbyists and a Washington DC attorney, Desoto County has had a lot of pull in the decision making process. Also, it is hard for a state with an exceptional amount of poverty level citizens to turn down the promise of additional education funds. I think anyone could understand that in the short term. The problem is that these decisions affect us for much longer than just the here and now.

One of the main people to push Common Core in our school district was Jennifer Weeks, Assistant Superintendent of Academic Education. Mrs. Weeks ultimately has control over the money, federal programs, Special Ed, curriculum and the list goes on. Mrs. Weeks worked briefly in another school district as a Special Ed teacher before coming to DCS. She was hired, in large part, at the “request” of our former State Superintendent, Dr. Tom Burnham. She worked for DCS immediately at the county office as Testing Coordinator, and sometime around 2006, she was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Academic Education. This has brought up many questions and concerns from educators in our district. Is she qualified enough to be making these decisions for us? Did she really have enough classroom experience to make these decisions for us? Considering she was the one writing the Common Core curriculum (or should I say her hand picked teachers) for us, how do we know her curriculum is maximizing the benefits of Common Core with her limited experience? I am not trying to criticize Mrs. Weeks, and I do not know her personally, but I think these are all legitimate questions being raised by her co-workers at county office and in the district.

I bring up Mrs. Weeks because I think she is a great example of why so many local educators have concerns. If Common Core is not implemented correctly and is being written by people that do not have the time invested, credentials or training in curriculum writing, are we getting the best use out of Common Core? There have been so many different curriculums thrown out to the teachers and none of them have been used long enough to know whether they are beneficial to our children or not. Today Shurley English, tomorrow Fountas and Pinnell and a month from now Saxon Phonics, but wait….if a friend of the family is the sales rep for another curriculum, you can rest assured DCS will get that next. It is very hard for anyone to know or trust what is being thrown at them because there have been so many curriculums and testing methods shuffled their way. Now that the state has adopted Common Core, it is just another “set of standards” given to them and without the tools they need to determine its success.

What I find quite funny is an incident that happened just today. After pulling various teachers out of the classroom to write the Common Core curriculum and leaving the Assistants to teach the class, Mrs. weeks informed the principals today that they WILL be getting textbooks. AND….she wanted to know what Language Arts/English curriculum they want to use. What a lot of time was wasted in having those teachers do all of that work for nothing. So much time and money is wasted on curriculums, training, professional development and for what, so it can be changed the following year?! This is what leads to distrust and confusion with educators and parents.

Common Core could be the best set of standards set forth, but how do we know because the smoke and mirrors of the school district makes it very hard to know. Is it right of the government to bribe or bully us into adopting Common Core? No. Is Common Core going to benefit our children? Possibly if all of the variables are as they should be. Should parents and educators question standards, testing methods and curriculums? Yes, if they have legitimate concerns. These are our kids, and the teachers are ultimately responsible for them, NOT someone in the county office. We have to sort through all of the issues to see where we really are. We have to have the right people in place, and have the right method in place for implementing any standards or curriculums that come our way. A break in the chain means we do not achieve full success. If we are going to constantly spend tax payer dollars on these new programs, shouldn’t we be invested in them long enough to see them through the way they were intended? Kids need CONSISTENCY. Kids need STRUCTURE. Kids need teachers that have all of the resources they need to make them successful. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We need to cut through the bull and get back to the basics.

According to the Common Core initiative, the Superintendent and Educators, it has been said that Common Core will be technology based by the 2014-2015 school year. This has been one of my main concerns for Common Core. How can we fathom that it will be possible financially to have a computer for all kids by this time? If we don’t have the technological resources necessary, how will we be implementing this 100%? If a teacher has 4 computers in her classroom, how will she/he give 25 kids a test that is on the computer? If she/he has to rotate the kids on the computers, will that teacher be maximizing their time and efficiency in the classroom or the time and efficiency of their kids? I know I do not have all of the answers, but if this many educators have this many concerns, I think we need to figure things out very quickly. No one seems to have the answers yet we are all in on this.

I encourage everyone to do some research, ask some questions and try to stay informed on these issues. Teachers, Parents, Administrators and state Legislators all have to come together to make the best decisions possible for our children. The decisions cannot be based on financial gains or losses. They cannot be based on personal agendas or self serving purposes. With every decision made concerning education, our children have to be the first thought, not the last! They need us. This is their lives we are talking about! Mississippi has been last in education for so long, and no matter how many curriculums or standards have been adopted, we have stayed the same. Maybe it is time to slow down, and let’s get back to the basics. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Let me know what you think!

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5 thoughts on “DCS and Common Core

  1. What’s funny is no one ever asks the teachers what they think is best. They are the ones that spend 8 hours a day with the students. I am an elementary teacher and the common core reading program is fantastic. I have had students come in my class on the lowest reading level and leave by the end of the year on grade level. It works better than anything I’ve ever taught in all my 23 years of teaching.

  2. Since all the debate surrounding common core and Georgia withdrawing, I would like to know exactly what the race based standards are that seem to be the hot topic.

    • First, let me commend you on all of your great test scores. I know that you are considered one of the best language arts teachers in the county. For that reason, I value your contribution to this discussion and to our page. I have attached an article that shares the issues with the race based side of Common Core. Obviously you are a dedicated and successful teacher! The problem with the race based standards is spelled out in the article below. When Common Core was created, a lot of people feel that a diverse group of individuals and backgrounds were not considered. The problem with creating one set of standards is that it is unrealistic to expect SPED students, ELL students and different socio economic backgrounds to meet the same standards. You also have the advanced student and the basic student that achieves average success. In our district, many teachers contributed to the writing of the Common Core Curriculum. Some felt as though, here again, there was not a diverse group of trained curriculum writers that participated in this undertaking or that took into consideration the many different backgrounds. This same issue has been seen throughout the country. This has led to states requesting waivers from the government that allow less benchmarks to be reached by certain groups. Even though their intentions are well intended and a way of making up for the short comings of Common Core and the testing methods, it sets them up for race based standards controversy. Either way you look at it, it needs some consideration and rethinking. You can read the article below.

      According to Alabama’s new education standards, black students will not be expected to do as well as white ones in public schools. The WSJ reports:

      “Beginning this fall, Alabama public schools will be under a new state-created academic accountability system that sets different goals for students in math and reading based on their race, economic status, ability to speak English and disabilities.” Alabama’s Plan 2020 “sets a different standard for students in each of several subgroups — American Indian, Asian/Pacific islander, black, English language learners, Hispanic, multirace, poverty, special education and white.”

      In other words, minority students will need to meet lower expectations, while white students (and Asians) will be expected to reach higher proficiency levels.

      This practice is not new. In an effort to escape the No Child Left Behind Act’s stringent standards for schools, a number of states applied for a waiver, which would allow states to keep federal funding if their schools met a limited number of benchmarks. Of the 33 states granted a waiver last year, 27 now have different achievement goals for different groups of students. And the Obama administration fully supports this measure, “as long as the low-performing students are required to make greater rates of progress, so that the gap between struggling students and high-achieving students is cut in half over six years.”

      The issue of race is clearly still entangling a society that likes to think of itself as post-racial. Ironically, not only are the liberal democrats of the Obama administration not raising red flags when states ask to do this; they are actively supporting racial profiling in schools.

      In practical terms, this is setting up a system in which some teachers will think they’ve succeeded as long as the black kids in a class reach a certain low level of proficiency. Meanwhile, they’ll keep pushing the others to do better. This hardly seems like a behavior we want to incentivize, but a teacher trying to do well under these new evaluation standards would be acting rationally to do exactly that. We appear to be recreating the old “separate but equal” education systems within integrated classrooms. Surely color blind standards make more sense.

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