Common Core teaching guidelines debated

Nov 4, 2013 by

PORTSMOUTH — There was no reconciling deep differences of opinion on the controversial Common Core State Standards at a forum held on the topic Friday morning.

The Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee invited those on both sides of the debate to share their views during the forum, which was hosted at Seacoast Media Group’s headquarters on the Pease International Tradeport.

The new standards, adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010, aim to provide a clear and consistent educational framework to equip children with the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in college and the work force.

Ann Mordecai, a math intervention coordinator at Portsmouth schools, said the standards, particularly in math, are a significant step forward. While students could easily be left behind by the old grade-level expectations that covered many math concepts with little depth, Mordecai said the new standards promote mastery of a single skill — such as addition and subtraction — before moving on to the next concept.

“These are non-negotiable skills,” said New Castle resident Bill Duncan, an advocate of public education.

However, Ann Marie Banfield, an education liaison with Cornerstone Action, and Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Boston-based think tank the Pioneer Institute, said the Common Core standards do not stack up against some of the best educational standards that have already been in place in states such as Massachusetts, where students have compared favorably on test scores to children around the world.

“Are we really aligning to the best? I would argue no, we are not,” Banfield said.

On nearly every aspect of Common Core, the sides disagreed. Those against it said the standards cut out classic literature, poetry and drama from the curriculum; supporters said the standards do not dictate a curriculum and that teachers still decide their classroom content at the local level.

Detractors said Common Core links to the federal Race to the Top program will require personal student data collection, raising fears that federal privacy laws will be violated.

“There are some creepy things in there,” Gass said.

Duncan and state Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, said state statute will take precedence and prevent the release of a child’s personal information to a national database.

“Our state law says no personally identifiable student data can leave the state to any entity for any reason,” Duncan said. “Period. End of story.”

While the Common Core advocates said substantial input on the standards came from New Hampshire educators, skeptics questioned the extent to which the standards truly represent the state.

The Common Core standards were authored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, two groups that represent their membership in the states, and not the states themselves, Gass said. These trade groups have “horrendous” records on improving student achievement, he said.

Portsmouth parent Angela Pont attended the forum and said she was outraged that there has been such little discussion about the new standards at the local level. It was the state, and not individual communities, that adopted the Common Core in 2010, and there has been little discussion about the new standards by the city School Board, she said.

“To me, it seems like it was shoved on us,” Pont said.

Angie Manning-Welch, a fourth-grade teacher at New Franklin School, said teachers have been looking out for students’ best interests as the district has moved forward with implementing the new standards. While change is difficult for everyone, she said she has seen that students are becoming more engaged with texts. She said she has encouraged students to look across different media, including poetry, video and news articles, to develop original thoughts about what they are learning.

“I’ve been really happy with the bar being raised for them in terms of reading,” Manning-Welch said.

via Common Core teaching guidelines debated |

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