Students in the will transition to new benchmarks in the next few years, now that the trustees have adopted national educational standards.
Called the "Common Core State Standards," or just Common Core, they're the newest and biggest educational effort since No Child Left Behind. California is one of 45 states nationwide to adopt the standards, which focus on college and career readiness.
In August 2010, the California Board of Education adopted the Common Core, which means that California’s K-12 students will now follow the same academic expectations as children in most other states. Capo Unified made its move in May.
While heavily backed by a variety of groups, the nationalized standards also have their detractors.
The development of the Common Core was a voluntary, state-led effort coordinated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, with interested groups, such as teachers and parents from nearly every state, contributing to their development. It’s been up to each state to decide whether or not to implement them.
The Common Core includes college and career-readiness standards for mathematics, English-language arts and literacy in various content areas for K-12 students. New assessments, which students begin to take in 2015 when the standars are fully implemented, will rely more on writing, critical thinking, analysis and problem solving. Students can expect to see:
- More project-based learning
- Fewer multiple-choice tests
- More open-ended questions on schoolwork
- A greater emphasis on informational texts and nonfiction
According to a CUSD presentation district administrators gave at a May 23 Board of Trustees meeting, by 2018, a high school diploma won’t be enough for graduates to find jobs; the labor market will dictate that 63 percent of all United States jobs will require college. Currently, not enough American students graduate college to compete in the global economy.
Employers want workers with effective critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills, and they want workers to be more creative and collaborative, according to the CUSD presentation. The new standards were designed “with the end in mind,” to foster more of an application of skills instead of encouraging students to memorize facts.
For language arts, the standards require increasing levels of complexity for reading comprehension. In writing, students will need to be able to write a logical argument beginning in the early grades. The arguments must contain reasoning, evidence and claims that have substance.
Math standards for K-5 students will emphasize a solid foundation which will help students grasp more complicated forms of math taught later. Middle school students are prepped for high school math, and high school students have to apply mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues.
Supporters include the College Board, the American Council on Education, the National Education Association, the national PTA, the American Federation of Teachers and other educational and business groups nationwide.
“Geographic or socio-economic factors should not dictate the level of education that all students are entitled to receive," former National PTA President Charles J. Saylors announced when the standards were first released. "The great benefit of the standards is that they will ensure a level playing field among states, school districts and schools that will give all students the opportunity to be ready for their college and career.”
Throughout the transition period, CUSD will develop resources for teachers as they redesign instruction and assessments to align with the new standards. The district also will work to educate families about the Common Core, said CUSD Trustee Anna Bryson.
Bryson voted for the new standards with some slight reservations, a move that perhaps didn't thrill on the homefront: Her husband and former assistant secretary of education Bill Evers is one of the leading opponents of the Common Core.
Bryson voiced her concerns to the board about the need to hold up CUSD’s and the state’s high math and English standards.
“My concern is intense about making sure that we do not level and lose the great strides we made in math,” Bryson told Patch.
Bryson is confident, however, that CUSD’s leaders will implement the Common Core in a careful way that assures the students will benefit.
“We will find a way to make sure that this means better things for the children through a very rigorous implementation methodology,” Bryson said at the May 23 board meeting.
The Obama administration supports the effort and has included adoption of the Common Core as a requirement to win Race to the Top school reform grants. The federal government didn’t develop the standards but can support states as they implement the national standards.
For example, the federal government can provide states with greater flexibility in their use of federal funds and provide long-term financial support for the development and implementation of common assessments, among other things.
This level of federal involvement has alarmed some critics, who say the Obama administration should not be using Race to the Top to push states into adopting standards and assessments that are substantially the same in most states. Critics say current law bans federal agencies from directing, supervising or controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction and instructional materials.
Critics also decry what they say is a one-size-fits-all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject. They say the Common Core threatens to stifle educational innovation and undermines local control of public school curriculum and instruction.