"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alpine's Implementation of Common Core

As I've mentioned previously, I am very grateful to our district administrators who decided to delay implementation of Common Core a year.  We have been able to learn from other districts and have more resources available to us than we would have.   Unfortunately, it is still rushed in some areas, and that isn't something that our district has any control over.  The implementation schedule was set by the State Board of Education.  Here is what you need to know about Alpine's implementation.

First, every school in the district will be having a parent information meeting about Common Core. Here is the link to the times and locations.  I encourage everyone to attend to find out the district's perspective on Common Core, and the local School Community Council's selection of math texts.  The district's math committee has been reviewing the available math texts this past month.  I have heard very positive things from those on the committee.  I know they have worked long and hard to come up with the best options available.  They have narrowed down the selections and will be presenting those options to the School Community Councils.  The School Community Councils will make their decisions this month, and the textbooks will be ordered in April.  The cost for these textbooks is estimated to be $1.5M for this year, and about the equivalent amount next year. 

Utah is the only state to select the "integrated" math approach.  This approach incorporates elements of Algebra and Geometry in every year, instead of separating them out into Algebra I, Geometry, etc.  Additionally, seventh-graders currently can take Math 7, Pre-Algebra or Algebra I, depending on their test scores.  With Common Core implementation, Math 7 and Pre-Algebra students will be in the Intermediate II math course.  Here is a link to the math implementation schedule, if you want to see where your student will end up.  There are, essentially, three paths students can take through math.  To see this plan, click here.  It is significant to mention that not a single 9th-grade math textbook was reviewed because there aren't any that are aligned to Common Core with the "integrated" math approach available at this point in time.  That is a concern to me, but I am told we are going forward.

Second, math will switch to Common Core for those going into 6 - 8 (and some 9th) grades this Fall.  Language Arts will switch to Common Core for K - 5 and 7 - 12.  Next year (2013-14), the elementary grades, 9th and 10th will implement math, and the 6th grade will implement Language Arts.  Our teachers will undergo training this Spring and Summer to be prepared for the switch.  The teachers who deal with the "Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects" will also receive training before school starts in the Fall.  (In last year's budget, $860,000 was allocated for Common Core training.) 

Third, Common Core Language Arts has an increased emphasis on informational text (information-based readings) over literature.  In elementary, 55% of the curriculum should be informational, increasing to 70% by high school.  The complexity of a text (reading) is supposed to increase.  According to the formula, a narrative (story) is easier to read, and so would be considered a lower complexity than a similarly worded information-based reading.  (In fact, the Grapes of Wrath is said to be a Grade 2-3 complexity level, but is "upgraded" to high-school level, based on "qualitative measures".)  Since we are not adopting new textbooks for Language Arts, there isn't anything concrete upon which parents may provide input for this aspect of the Common Core implementation. 

The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (a consortium of 31 states) is currently providing our state with the Common Core tests in English and Math, starting in 2014-15.  However, Alpine is requesting to be one of the pilot districts for the assessments (tests), which would start in 2013-14.  We are assured that since we have a representative from the Utah State Office of Education, we will be able to control the content of the assessments (tests).  The tests will drive the curriculum, especially as envisioned by the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  "Hopefully, some day, we can track children from preschool to high school and from high school to college and college to career. We must track high growth children in classrooms to their great teachers and great teachers to their schools of education." If teachers are being tracked, based on student performance, they will be teaching to the test. 

Additionally, Utah is one of 6 states Secretary Duncan praised for our data-tracking system. He says, "The Data Quality Campaign, DQC, lists 10 elements of a good data system. Six states, Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah, have all 10 elements. Other states are also making progress. For example, Arkansas has a data warehouse that integrates school fiscal information, teacher credentials, and student coursework, assessments, and even extracurricular activities." [emphasis mine]  I would recommend you read the entire speech, as linked above. 

Finally, as time goes on, there will be more online and digital texts and readings than before.  We are in a transitional phase, and many of the districts that have already implemented Common Core have done so without any formal textbook adoption--just online.  This has been successful for those teachers who haven't relied on textbooks, but it has been difficult for those who have.  Additionally, I'm unsure how we maintain transparancy to the public, as to our curriculum in a digital age.  This is another area that will need to be addressed going forward. 

In conclusion, I applaud our district for waiting to implement and for providing parents with the opportunity to provide input on Common Core.  I just wish we had more local control over the entire thing.  If we, as parents or as a board, were to decide on a different set of standards, there are no options for doing so.  The State Board has already decided for you and for our board.  If the playing field were wide open, would we have decided to change and adopt these standards and assessments at this point in time?  I, honestly, don't know, but we weren't given that choice, and neither were you.


  1. Wendy, I appreciate your thoughtful post. I was just elected as a county delegate and was encouraged to speak with you about your perspective on the common core. It sounds like the one-year delay in implementation hasn't led to much discourse and input from parents and schools. Most people at our local caucus were unaware of the common core and the implications of its adoption. I'm generally supportive of changes that will increase rigor in the classroom and have heard good things about the common core, but I understand some people have serious reservations. How has the feedback you have received from parents, teachers, and administrators shaped the district's plans for implementation?

  2. @Jim: I'd be happy to discuss this with you. Please feel free to email or phone me. Overall, the delay has allowed our administration to get feedback from other school districts who did implement earlier. The feedback from parents has been limited, as most people didn't even know this was coming. The implementation has mostly been driven by the curriculum department, with the input from the math committee (which includes parents, teachers, etc), and, ultimately, the school community councils that will decide on the final math textbook. However, a member of one SCC told me that the 2 textbooks their school is choosing between are mostly interchangeable. No public input mechanism exists for the English component. So, arguably, we have learned from some of our colleagues in other districts, but parents and teachers are only aware of the messaging they've been given. The messaging is simply: higher standards, still local control.

  3. ...and in case there's any question, I don't believe we are retaining local control.

  4. The math "paths" trouble me, but the Language Arts standards deeply trouble me. The idea that literature is less complex than informational readings seems very misguided. Two of the problems I see with this mindset are:

    1. Point blank: Stories are more complex than informational readings, and they are a far better way to communicate both values and facts. Stories develop understanding of historical context, the interplay of characters, the nature of people and their nuances, the goodness or badness of people's decisions, the beauty and tragedy in the world around us, as described by great writers, who are by nature great observers.

    For example, reading "Johnny Tremain" will make not only the ideas but also the facts and people of the Revolution come alive far more effectively than will a textbook telling of the same facts. Similarly with "Anne of Green Gables", "The Trumpeter of Krakow", "Anne Frank", etc, etc. Literature is a far superior teacher, and requires much more of the reader than do textbooks, in general.

    2. I can think of no better way to completely douse an enthusiasm for learning than by sticking dry informational texts in front of a student day after day. This seems a sure way to weaken a student's ability to understand the world around them. There surely is a place for such reading, but it would seem more appropriate to swap the percentages, and have 45% (or less) of reading in K-6 be informational, and 30% in 7-12.

    Literature is the lifeblood of classical education, the type that made the founders and greatest thinkers of this country. I find it disturbing that the Common Core abandons this approach.

  5. The 3 states that didn't adopt Common Core are: Texas, Alaska, and Virginia. They did not receive Race to The Top Grant monies. I don't know if any of those states even applied. Utah applied but didn't receive the money.

    There are no consequences (other than some comments from US Dept of Ed officials), so far, for their opting out. They still receive their normal federal funding.

    With the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, that may be done this year, Congress could change the funding requirements, but Congress may not be inclined to do so. They run for elected office. The Dept of Ed officials do not.

  6. why do we keep relinquishing our right to the federal government? Common Core will impact our rights as parents and as a local community to make decisions in our children's education.
    This leaves the door wide open for the federal gov. to dictate what values and beliefs are being taught in our classrooms. History will be taught through the lens of a few. We cannot continue to give our local rights and powers to the ever growing federal government. If we continue down this road we will see an explosion of charter and private schools created by parents who want a say in their children's edu.
    Jen G