Bentonville, Fort Smith education officials support Common Core

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 143 views 

With the uproar over new Common Core standards leading some states, including Indiana and soon Oklahoma, to repeal all or part of the standards, local education administrators are defending the educational standards.

And the defense will only ramp up as more and more anti-Common Core groups voice their opposition to the program, including the group Arkansas Against Common Core.

According to the group's website, the group is seeking a reversal of Common Core standards in Arkansas because they say it will "Institute national control of curriculum, require $139 million to implement in (Arkansas), lower quality standards, provide parents and school boards no recourse to influence content or standards, undermine the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment authority of states over education," and "institute a massive national student tracking initiative."

A summer 2013 editorial at alleged that the development and implementation of Common Core have been flawed from the start.

“For starters, the misnamed ‘Common Core State Standards’ are not state standards. They're national standards, created by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA),” noted the editorial. “They were designed, in part, to circumvent federal restrictions on the adoption of a national curriculum, hence the insertion of the word ‘state’ in the brand name. States were coerced into adopting the Common Core by requirements attached to the federal Race to the Top grants and, later, the No Child Left Behind waivers.”

The editorial concluded with this: “Unfortunately there's been too little honest conversation and too little democracy in the development of the Common Core. We see consultants and corporate entrepreneurs where there should be parents and teachers, and more high-stakes testing where there should be none. Until that changes, it will be hard to distinguish the ‘next big thing’ from the last one.”

But according to Dr. Benny Gooden, superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, the assertions of Common Core detractors are simply not true and he said the Common Core standards are good for Fort Smith and all other school districts across the nation.

"Absolutely. We've got far too much invested in moving that direction. But there is nothing inherently evil about the common core. That whole initiative started with the (National) Governor's Association (Center for Best Practices) and the (Council of) Chief (State) School Officers."

He said the two associations developed the curriculum in order to create a set of standards that were uniform across the nation as American society becomes increasingly more mobile, resulting in students sometimes moving from state to state. But he was firm that each state is free to either adopt the standards or not, adding that fear of a federal takeover of local schools was unfounded.

While Gooden says Common Core standards are good for the nation and for local districts in this area, including his own, he said implementation has not been without hiccups.

"My take is they rushed the development of the standards and didn't involve enough grass roots across the country," he said, adding that much of the work was handled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation due to the level of funding required to establish the standards, though he was quick to say he was not criticizing the foundation or the curriculum.

"But what happened is they did it in a hurry. They would have been better served to lengthen the process to work with real teachers … and gone through a little more participative process then they did. It might have ended up at the same place, but I think there would have been better acceptance."

Dena Ross, executive director of instructional services at Bentonville Public Schools, equated any problems with Common Core standards simply to "growing pains."

"I think there are growing pains with any new initiative," she said. "I feel with any set of standards or framework, they're neither good or evil. It's what you make of them and what the expectations are. Common Core standards are more rigorous, in depth in terms of student content than what the Arkansas standards were (previously). I don't think you'll find someone who disagrees."

Ross was quick to add that while the standards are more rigorous, the schools themselves are not expecting students to learn any additional content, but instead the students are expected to use more depth in the learning process and are expected to display that through evaluative tests.

As Gooden explained, it is more than bubbling in some letters on a Scantron, at least with the standards adopted by the state of Arkansas.

"There's some states in the country that their entire state testing protocol is bubble testing. Arkansas has a considerable amount of constructive response. That is the kind of thing that is certainly representative of deeper learning than bubbling in some sheets (with multiple answer choices). They said they wanted some more rigor like that, knowing it is a big undertaking."

Another of the growing pains Ross alluded to was teachers having to adjust their teaching styles to meet the new standards.

"There have been some real changes in terms of how teachers teach the content. If you want them to change how they learn, you have to change how you teach."

She said by asking students to use more depth, districts will have to implement "a change in teaching strategies and change with adults is harder than change with students."

"Students are young and flexible. Teachers who have been tremendously successful in the classroom are having to find themselves changing."

Even as teachers adjust to the new standards and students are adjusting to the new style of learning and testing, campaigns such as Arkansas Against Common Core are poised to continue across the nation.

Ross said it was important for people to do their own research and understand what the Common Core is and what it is not.

“Unfortunately, when I've read an article that there's a thing in the Senate talking about do we keep Common Core or not, the reason they cite is we're testing our kids too much. The test is not what Common Core is about," she said, adding that the standards are intended to make Arkansas and the rest of the nation more competitive in an ever increasing global economy.

"If you look nationally and internationally, we find ourselves in the U.S. compared with those countries in the Pacific rim because those kids always perform beautifully on math assessments. They're always high performers. The Common Core standards were written to be more in line with expectations in high performing countries and states in the U.S. If we want our students to perform their best and learn the most, then yes, I think these (standards) are good."

As for talk among those opposed to the Common Core who say it is nothing more than another fad in education, Gooden said the Common Core was far from it.

"I certainly can respect why people can feel that way. …It's almost like it's the latest trend that trickled down from Washington. I think top-down reform is hard for people to swallow."

But he said the hope among educators and school administrators was that Common Core would provide states with common assessments and standards across state lines.

"It's too bad it's become politicized. You have both sides and I guess I'd like for us to meet in the middle somewhere."

Arkansas’ implementation of Common Core was recently endorsed by Raise Our Grade, an offshoot of Arkansas Learns, which is a self-described “private-sector alliance of parents, employers and citizens.” The Raise Our Grade alliance includes school administrator groups and businesses that are often on opposite sides of education issues. Members of the alliance include the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, Arkansas School Boards Association, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, Arvest Bank, Murphy Oil, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and The Walton Family Foundation.

“On this issue, it is very telling that groups which typically go toe-to-toe now find themselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder in support of Higher Arkansas Standards,” Gary Newton, president and CEO of Arkansas Learns, said in the April 2 announcement of the alliance.