Local school officials support common core

jmink@macon.comFebruary 9, 2014 

As heated debates continue on the issue of Common Core, a statewide coalition has formed in support of the education standards, claiming they are effective and need to continue.

And local administrators agree.

The rigorous standards of Common Core were put into place in 2010, encouraging hands-on learning that concentrates on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Georgia led an effort among 47 states, which collaborated to develop the uniform national standards for K-12 public school students. While many people support the standards, others strongly oppose them.

Now, state legislators are looking to introduce two bills associated with the standards, one of which calls for Common Core to end, said Dana Rickman, director of policy and research with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

Meanwhile, Rickman’s partnership and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce announced Wednesday the formation of a group of business, education and community leaders who call for Common Core to continue.

Proponents say the standards boost student learning, are largely embraced by educators and would be costly -- both financially and in teacher morale -- to discontinue.

The opposition has held rallies across Georgia, claiming that the standards are a costly federal intrusion of Georgia’s education system and demanding that they be revoked.

Local school officials rebuke that argument, claiming the standards are a combined effort of state leaders. Such consistency helps students, especially those who transfer to schools across state lines, administrators say.

“This was developed by states that came together, because the governors brought them together,” said Steve Smith, interim superintendent of Bibb County schools. “I’m pleased with the results of the Common Core. I’m pleased with the results we’re making as a school system. We have a long way to go, but we’re moving closer to where we need to be.”

‘Constantly writing and tweaking’

Additionally, Common Core is not so different from Georgia’s previous standards, which were used as a nationwide model when creating Common Core, administrators say.

About 90 percent of the new standards match the old ones, said Robin Hines, superintendent of Houston County schools.

“Support for Common Core is one of our legislative priorities, and we’ve expressed that to our delegation,” Hines said. “It’s being misrepresented as a federal mandate. It is not. It’s a set of standards that, as a state, we agreed upon, just like everybody else.”

Tara Elderkin, a special education teacher at Houston County High School, previously told The Telegraph she thought the new standards are not much different than the old ones.

“I like them. They’re not much different,” she said. “And they’re not out of reach. Students can do it.”

Still, there have been some changes. Perhaps the biggest change is the rigor, which is much more in depth, officials say.

“I’m a very strong advocate,” Smith said. “Common Core is much more rigorous, has a much more hands-on approach, helps students become better critical thinkers, and that’s ... absolutely essential for student development.”

One specific change that has sparked controversy is the subject of integrated math. Under Common Core, the conventional math classes -- algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc. -- are combined. It’s a strategy critics claim is inefficient and not widely used in schools and colleges across the nation.

Recently, districts have been given the option to return to the old math standards, and they can tweak the curriculum -- an option Houston County schools have taken, officials say.

“We have worked closely with the math teachers, and we’re constantly writing and tweaking math curriculum,” said Eric Payne, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in Houston County. “We break it all the way down to the teacher, and then we tweak those units.”

‘A great deal of pressure’

Many say Common Core standards and school curriculum are the same, which is untrue, Hines said, and Houston County’s approach to math curriculum is an example of that.

The Common Core standards indicate what a student should know by a certain time. It maps out, for example, the specific math skills a student should acquire by the end of the third grade. Curriculum, on the other hand, is what’s taught and how it’s being taught.

“Curriculum is still (under the control) of local school districts and teachers,” Rickman said.

Discontinuing the standards would hurt teacher morale and cost money, educators claim. Teachers have spent the past couple of years training for Common Core. Any new standards would mean more, costly training and would add another load to teachers’ plates, which already are full, local administrators say.

“Generally speaking, I think it would be very hurtful because our teachers are under a great deal of pressure,” Hines said. “We’re just now becoming familiar and good and seeing gains in our testing, and (discontinuing Common Core) would be like jumping ship to a whole new program.”

Teachers have adjusted to three new sets of standards over the past decade, Smith said, and ending Common Core would just add to that list.

“It would frustrate teachers even more,” Smith said. “I think a majority of teachers are on board with it, and I think we need to stay the course.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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