On July 18, the board had a retreat. The main discussion items were 1) Common Core, 2) Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals (MVVG), 3) Code of Conduct, and 4) Individual Board Member Comments.
Part 1: Common Core
This is going to be a topic of on-going discussions for the foreseeable future. Over the next year, our district will be training teachers, and getting ready to implement the State Board's decision to adopt the Common Core standards, along with the Smarter Balance Consortium's (SBCC) federally-funded assessments (by 2014). We were privileged to have Syd Dickson from the State Office of Education (USOE) present on the Common Core. Oneof the things I appreciated hearing was that, even though the Common Core organization is going to be creating standards for more subjects than just Language Arts and Math, the State Board has decided NOT to adopt anything else, especially in the realm of Social Studies or Science.
My concern is Language Arts, with the emphasis on 'informational texts' is sufficient for allowing things into our curriculum that local parents may not be comfortable with. I would submit that all writing is done from a particular point of view. Presenting informational articles to our children will come with its own agenda. One of the reasons for local control is to make sure the 'slant' is representative of what our parents are comfortable having presented to their children. And rather than presenting things via literature, which is admittedly fictional, information text comes with its own brand of authority. Children, supposedly, should be taught to analyze these texts, but at what age are they capable of deep, cognitive thinking? Certainly not in Kindergarten when 'research' writing begins with Common Core.
Ms. Dickson also said being part of the SBCC assessment group and Common Core, in general, will give us greater ability to impact textbook and resource creation. One concern a teacher in our district had was the integrated math (algebra, geometry, etc integrated at all grade-levels) was being used only by Utah and no other states. How important will we be in that process, if we are the only state using this approach? Her response was we are the only state implementing it across the board. However, there are quite a few individual districts choosing to implement the integrated process. This leads me to wonder how much leeway districts in other states have in their implementation, and why should we not have that leeway, as well?
Ms. Dickson wanted to make sure we understood that Common Core is NOT a federal or national standards program and that this was a big myth out there. We clarified that the US Dept. of Ed. is funding the assessment piece, and she said they were. However, there is supposed to be a database of questions for the assessments the USOE will use to create Utah's assessments. These assessments will be formative (chapter tests, etc. during the year), summative (end of the year assessments), as well as computer-adaptive. One concern some of the board members share is the ability of the computer-adaptive tests to actually work. The idea is that, based on the answer to any given question, the assessment program will generate a more in-depth question to test deeper understanding. I would be curious to see this in practice. As a programmer, I know, first-hand, the options in a program are only as good as the author(s) are able to predict and account for them. Also, how accurate will writing assessments be, when done by computer?
Finally, we were told the Common Core was not done outside of public scrutiny. Quite a few of the professional associations both inside and outside the state were involved. A few of us commented that we were unaware of Common Core, and its existence isn't widely known among parents. There was a lot of parental input on the standards, Ms. Dickson said. When I asked who was involved locally, I was told that if it had just been a Utah project, a lot more local people would have been involved. However, since it was comprised of 45 or so states, there wasn't much Utah public input.
Rep. John Dougall (R-Highland) attended the presentation as well, and was asked by Board Member, Mark Clement, for his comments. Roughly, Rep. Dougall stated that standards don't guarantee outcomes, and that good standards are always watered down by committees over time. As an engineer, he suggested benchmarking. Benchmarking is where you find who is doing the best job, say, in math. Then you compare your results against theirs. It was suggested that having common assessments would make that easier. However, our district could simply adopt the math assessments used by the benchmark district. There is no reason we couldn't do such a thing right now. I appreciated Rep. Dougall's perspective.
As long as your child is achieving on a national test, are you comfortable giving control of their education to some group of 'experts' you will never meet and have no influence over? Local control has always ensured local responsibility and accountability. Common Core changes that. Are you comfortable with the change?
If you would like to regain local control and challenge the concept that outside experts know more about your children's education than you do, click "like" on this Facebook link and maybe even go so far as to click "share". "Like" helps me know where people stand on a specific issue and who might participate in advancing the perspective. "Share" means you believe in the perspective so much, you would like to share the perspective with others. Either is appreciated.
Note: The audio of all board meetings is available by law--often (after a period of time) on the ASD website (under board meetings), and always, by request, from the district office.