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Statewide Debate Continues Over Common Core In Danbury Schools

Schools across Connecticut and 44 other states are in their first year using the Common Core, a new math and science curriculum.
Schools across Connecticut and 44 other states are in their first year using the Common Core, a new math and science curriculum. Photo Credit: audio-luci-store.it via Creative Commons

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Connecticut’s legislators, governor and education groups as well as parents and teachers are all debating the merits of the state’s switch to its new curriculum, the Common Core.

Schools across the state are in the first year of implementing the Common Core State Standards, a math and language arts curriculum voluntarily agreed upon by 45 states. The standards set specific goals for each student to reach in every grade and focus on college and career readiness.

The Connecticut Board of Education agreed to join with the Common Core in 2010. But as the state begins its changeover to the curriculum this school year, many have raised concerns about the Common Core’s focus and implementation.

“These standards were designed by educators and are supported by all of us because of the promise they offer for all of our children,” Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Executive Director Joseph Cirasuolo said. “We cannot let misinformation and political maneuvering prevent us from providing Connecticut’s kids the tools they need to succeed in college and in careers.”

But a series of bills have been proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly to establish a moratorium on Common Core implementation for the 2014-15 school year. The acts would also order a study on Common Core’s potential impacts on student achievement, costs to towns and the state, and other factors. Public hearings started Wednesday.

House Republican Leader Larry Cafero (R-Norwalk) said at the public hearings that his caucus put forward the bills “so that we can literally pause, take stock and decide based on the study’s findings how we as a state should proceed.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy signed an executive order Tuesday to form a statewide task force to study Connecticut’s Common Core implementation and make suggestions for improvements. The 25-member task force includes teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and Board of Education members from across the state.

“Teachers, students, public officials, and everyone involved in the education system will benefit by having this review, identifying challenges, and highlighting best practices and lessons learned,” Malloy said.

A recent survey by the Connecticut Education Association, the statewide teachers union, found that most Connecticut teachers support Common Core (64 percent total), but the majority (56 percent) said they support it with “some reservations.”

Supporters said they liked the program’s focus on critical thinking and clearer guidelines. Detractors largely said the curriculum focuses too much on standardized tests, according to the survey.

When asked for recommendations on how to implement the new curriculum, the top response was to “prioritize student learning over testing,” which 98 percent of teachers said was either “important” or “very important.” The next most popular suggestion was to give teachers more time to adjust.

Barbara Dennis, an English as a Second Language teacher in the Stamford Public Schools, went to Hartford Wednesday to speak in favor of delaying the switch to Common Core. Like many in the survey, she expressed concerns about tying teacher evaluations to standardized tests and the lack of time to prepare for the changeover.

“We want to have high standards for all, but we are asking that you slow down and train the teachers properly,” Dennis said in her testimony. “In most districts, teachers have not had the professional development necessary for the full implementation of the standards into each curriculum.”

Representatives from a group of advocacy groups calling themselves the “Big Six” are defending the Common Core and calling for adjustments to its implementation.

The group’s recommendations included more help and better communication between the state and local districts and schools, and better communication to parents. They also agreed with the governor’s decision last month to delay the state’s new standardized teacher and administrator evaluations for another year.

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