Saturday, April 16, 2011

Common Core Standards and What's at Stake

There are so many damaging education bills before the New Hampshire Senate right now that writing about them in a new light is becoming a bit daunting.  And while I have sat down several times to write this article, each draft sits on the page looking up at me with its preachy face, loaded down by educational, stale jargon.  Dry and boring, or not, here is my attempt at outlining more concerns:
Earlier this week I attended a meeting with educational stakeholders about the Common Core Standards (CCS) and their adoption in the state of NH.  In July of 2010, well before this current legislature took oaths of office, the State Board of Education, who in New Hampshire has the authority to approve and implement standards at the state level, adopted the Common Core Standards.  However, the House has decided to overthrow this authority with HB 164 in which it states, “The ‘common core state standards’ developed jointly by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers shall not be adopted by rule pursuant to RSA 541-A, or included or implemented in any way in the New Hampshire curriculum frameworks, or used as a measure of an adequate public education, without prior approval of the general court.” (RSA 541-A, in case you are wondering, outlines the procedure of adopting rules for agencies—so this bill is saying even though 541-A says how to adopt a new rule, we’re telling you not to bother.)
This stops the past few years of work that the Department of Education has done dead in its tracks and creates several larger issues for our state.  Since money is what gets most people’s attention rather than the quality of education when we are discussing schools, let’s start there.  Currently, New Hampshire assesses students through the NECAPs—the New England Common Assessment Program—in partnership with Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island.  All of these states have adopted the CCS and are working together with the other 40 states that have adopted the standards to create an assessment tool.  This leaves New Hampshire alone, and we will now be responsible for creating and paying for our own assessment , which will cost millions of dollars.
At the meeting, the president of the State PTA spoke up and said that the National PTA supports the adoption of these standards because they ensure that high standards are set nationwide—parents want to know that their children receive a quality education no matter where they live.  I know that I have had children move into our district and be either very far behind because the curriculum they had in another area wasn’t as rigorous as New Hampshire’s or they have been incredibly bored because they had already covered that material at an earlier grade level.  This frustrates parents.  They want consistency and adequacy across the board, and who’s to blame them?
University and college program directors attended the meeting as well, and they spoke to the fact that the CCS focus on college preparation and real world readiness—our current standards do not.  The university system is frustrated by the discrepancy in student performance and the amount of remedial work that freshmen are requiring.  They hope that these new standards will better prepare graduating seniors for the post-secondary world.
The military was also present, and the Sargent who spoke said that the military is behind these standards for a couple of reasons:  1. On a personal level, their families move every couple of years, and they want to know that consistency in rigor is present.  2.  They are finding that only one in four  17-24 year-old recruits are fully qualified to join the military because of the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test and/or physical health.   They are investing a great deal of money and time in remedial work so that their soldiers can be prepared.  They, like the higher education programs, hope that a common curriculum will better prepare their recruits for the intellectual expectations the military has on them.
Teachers also spoke at this meeting, saying that the CCS are much more comprehensive and transparent than the GLEs (Grade Level Expectations) that are currently used in NH.  We like that technology literacy is included and that writing across the curriculum is included.  We think the CCS are easier to navigate than the GLEs, and while they mostly align with our current standards, they feel more updated and real world applicable. 
So why has this become a controversial issue?  House members are insisting that this is a federally mandated curriculum.  In fact, it is a state-led initiative that received a great deal of input from New Hampshire.  House members say that it is the nationalization of education.  Nationwide we are hearing an outcry for educational reform, but when we collaborate together as states, saving time and money, it’s called “nationalization.” But can one argue that a child in rural Nebraska should not have the same expectations as a child in Boston or another child in Oregon?  Nowhere in these standards does it tell teachers how to teach or what resources and materials to use—we are allowed local control here and are able to use resources that best suit our student demographics.  But what this says is that every seventh grader in Maine, New Hampshire, Florida, Idaho, etc. should be able to write a narrative piece of writing across the nation.  How the teacher approaches that—what materials he or she uses—how he or she grades those pieces of writing—that is local control.  And while the bar is being raised for some states, it is at nearly the same level for New Hampshire.
A larger issue at hand, however, is that the House of Representatives has handed a bill over to the Senate Education Committee that undermines the authority of our State Board of Education—which is one step closer in the process of eliminating the Department of Education entirely (something they have also looked at this year).  RSA 193-C grants the SBE the authority to create state standards.  It also creates an oversight committee made up of members of the House and Senate Education Committees, a member of the House and Senate appointed by the speakers, and members of the House and Senate Finance committees.  There are checks and balances put into place already, yet this rogue legislature is determined to eliminate them.
This issue is now in the State Education Committee, and Senator Stiles, the Republican Chair, stated at our meeting the other day, if parents, teachers, and community members are opposed to the legislation proposed in HB 164, they need to contact the Senate Education Committee and their own senators as soon as possible.  The committee will be deciding very soon if this bill will be coming to the Senate floor.  Please act now!
Here is the link for the CCS so you can peruse them at your leisure:

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