Valdosta Daily Times

December 8, 2012

Understanding Common Core:

Drastic changes being made in education

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Students are entering into an educational era where homework is archaic, spelling words are obsolete and the goal is not just to graduate high school, but to become a member of the global community.

“The global connection is absolutely a reality,” said national presenter Karen Bailey. “We need to give our kids every possible edge.”

Bailey met with parents, teachers and educational leaders within the Valdosta City School system Thursday night to discuss the imminent and controversial Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS).

Georgia has joined 44 other states, the District of Columbia, and two territories, in formally adopting a set of core standards for kindergarten through high school in English- Language Arts and Mathematics, and for grades six through 12, literacy in Science, History/Social Studies, and technical subjects.

Georgia adopted the standards in July 2010. Since that time, the state has been working to train teachers through online and in-person sessions.

This school year, classrooms across Georgia began implementing the new standards early, a bold

move that many states have

neglected to do.

Georgia is preparing for the new national test that is scheduled for the 2014-2015 school year.

“This year feels different,” said Bailey. “Not bad different, but different.”

Though students throughout Valdosta and Lowndes County will be learning the new Common Core, they will still be taking the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) that evaluates the old standards.

The drastic shift to new standards is a statewide and national initiative to revive the United States from the bottom third of educational success throughout the world.

“The children in the United States are no longer competing nationally,” said Bailey.

According to a report published by Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance, U.S. students aren't progressing to catch up to their foreign peers.

Students in Latvia, Chile and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate.

According to former South African President Nelson Mandela, education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world and statistically speaking, the U.S. is not a party to those sort of conversations.

The new Common Core standards are attempting to overhaul education and focus not just on school, but on whether or not our children are prepared to face the experience of the real world.

According to Bailey, 80 percent of this years fifth graders are going into a career that hasn't even been invented yet.

Bailey used the example of iPhone apps. Just about everyone uses apps every day on their iPhone or iPad. However, five years ago, the iPhone was just being released. Five years ago, our lives didn't revolve around iPhone apps.

Apple is a stark realization of the pace of the global business community. It's forever changing and evolving and according to Bailey, our kids need to be ready to compete in a world that doesn't even exist yet.

"Common Core is about preparing for global careers," said Bailey.

So how do these new standards foster such boldness and innovation? Well, through extreme makeovers to two high areas of expectation: English- Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.

The biggest change to ELA, is that they are now pushing for students to read just as much non-fiction as fiction.

"To prepare the kids for a world that is still being invented, they need to read non-fiction," said Bailey.

This is a key component that will travel across various modes of educational subjects.

"If we don't teach our children how to read non-fiction, they begin to think that everything on the Internet is true," said Bailey.

Reading is no longer just about reading and finishing a book. It's about considering the source, finding the meaning and making powerful real world connections.

The new standards are showing students the world through reading and raising standards through requiring them to read more challenging material very closely so that they will be able to discuss the reading using evidence.

"You don't have to read an entire Shakespearean play to get a sense of who Shakespeare was as a writer," said Bailey. "That can be accomplished in one act."

The new standards are calling for a different type of reading.

"It's a shift," said Bailey. "Reading feels different."

If teachers can expand the amount of things that their students are reading, than the depth of what they are learning is expanding as well.

For parents, there are three essential things that can be done at home to help and encourage their children.

First, supply more non-fiction texts. Second, read multiple books on one topic. Third, discuss the ideas found within the text.

"This is what the creators of the test are saying," said Bailey.

In terms of writing and speaking, children are just not simply prepared for college and careers because they do not speak well. They have never been put in situations where they are forced to articulate how they feel and what they know.

Test creators are telling parents to encourage their children to write at home, share real world vocabulary with them, and demand evidence in everyday discussions.

"We tend to dumb down our vocabulary for our children," said Bailey. "Kids need to know that words matter."

According to Bailey, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am" is not a conversation.

"That's a polite southern child," said Bailey.

Parents and teachers at the forum shared concerns about the lack of homework and no weekly spelling word list.

"Our practice has always been to send home the spelling words," said Bailey. "That does nothing to improve their spelling."

Bailey stated that there's a difference between a good speller and a good memorizer.

As far as the homework is concerned, it's virtually useless.

"What it is is an old habit," said Bailey.

According to Bailey, there is zero research that indicates that homework improves learning.

"Why repeat a habit that has no value?"

According to Valdosta City School's assistant superintendent of finance Marty Roesch, several complaints have been made by parents about the lack of homework.

Roesch feels that if a child has demonstrated to the teacher that they know the skill, than doing it for homework serves no purpose.

"They practice how to do math wrong 30 times at home," said Roesch.

It would be more beneficial to practice it at school correctly with the teacher.

Math is the second area of expectation that is receiving a makeover. The big difference is that students will now be working through fewer topics.

"They are going to spend a longer time on them so they can know those topics," said Bailey. "It's not about skill, skill, skill, move on, new topic!"

Math skills will be built grade by grade. Even down to how we teach our children how to count is changing. It'snot just about counting from 1 and up. This just teaches students how to memorize. Common Core will be expecting children to know how to start at any number and count backwards or forward.

"It will lead them to be able to handle more complex mathematical equations," said Bailey.

Essentially, Math in terms of Common Core will learn more about fewer topics, build skills across grades, develop speed and accuracy, use it in real world scenarios and think fast to be able to solve problems.

Bailey gave an example of learning to ride a bike to how we teach and expect students to learn math.

If you test over the parts of the bike, then test if they can get on the bike, and then test if they can use the brakes and so on, that doesn't mean that they can ride the bike.

"The problem is, we don't know if they can ride the bike," said Bailey.

The biggest thing in math will be doing and doing it efficiently and correctly.

She said even down to the way that teachers grade is inaccurate. When a student does it wrong, F, wrong again, F, right, A!

"Well, that's a C," said Bailey.

The end game should be that each student knows it.

So what can parents do to help their child be more proficient in math?

First, push your child to know basic math facts. Second, ask why an answer is wrong or correct. Third, ask your child to do the math in real world scenarios.

"Math is as much about thinking as it is about doing the mathematical problem," said Bailey.

With all the new changes that Georgia will be rolling out over the next few years, adults are going to have to acknowledge that it will be uncomfortable.

"That's just the growing pains of a new year," said Bailey.

While it's new and different, assessments have not yet arrived. The CRCT (the old model of assessment) will be used for one more year.

Georgia made it so teachers had one year to teach Common Core and one year to assess.

"Teachers are essentially ripped in half," said Bailey.

Though they are teaching Common Core, they are assessing the old way.

"I would not expect this year's scores to be reflective on what's going on in the classroom," said Bailey.

The big point of contention is that no teacher has yet seen the new test.

"We're guessing," said Bailey.

While the CRCT may not be reflective of what advances are being made, Bailey says not to worry.

"The CRCT has never been the one and only decider for grade promotion," said Bailey. "It's not going to be the sole decider."

The bar is being raised, and Georgia is aiming to not just meet, but to exceed. It's going to be a bumpy ride, but in the end, many feel that rolling out the new Common Core standards will be the only way to re-introduce the United States to the global community. Not just for education's sake, but for the necessity it requires of our children that are preparing to enter the world.