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Common Core is No More, Sort Of

Gwendolyn Glenn

With confusion still swirling around the Common Core State Standards, it is no surprise that it is high on state and local education officials’ list of priorities for 2014.

The controversial standards, which outline what students need to learn in math and English/language arts, have gotten a bad rap from parents and some educators as well. As criticism of the standards has intensified, Maryland Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery announced that she will no longer refer to them as the Common Core. “We’ve gone from using the term Common Core State Standards to Maryland College and Career Ready Standards,” Lowery said.

Many people think the standards are some rigid, federally mandated rules that dictate what is taught in the classroom, which they aren’t. In fact, the standards give state and local officials and teachers a lot of leeway. Lowery says her administration has put “the Maryland touch” to the standards in developing a curriculum, so theirs can’t be lumped together with other states’ efforts. “The name branding means Maryland owns it and with Maryland attached to it, people will pay more attention because it’s ours,” she said.

And Lowery hopes the new name will reduce the confusion associated with the standards and new curriculum. “The confusion over it is a communication problem at every level, so a part of the rebranding…could on one level be a communication technique that could help people better understand what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Nationwide, state education officials tailored the national standards to meet their students’ needs. The goal was to develop a curriculum that produces college and career-ready graduates. Lowery says the next step is for state education officials to observe classes in all 24 school districts this year, to see how teachers are translating the standards into actual classroom curriculum. “What we thought was very important is after we go in and observe the classes, at the end, we meet with a group of teachers to get one-on-one individual feedback on how the implementation is going, what the challenges are, what the opportunities are and what the areas of needed improvement are,” Lowery said.

In Baltimore County, the Common Core--err, Maryland College and Career Ready Standards--is on teachers' union president Abby Beytin’s mind also. She’s concerned about the long hours teachers are working as they wade through the standards. The union filed a grievance against the district regarding the long hours at the end of last year. Superintendent Dallas Dance responded by promising additional resources for teachers, such as bringing in more substitute teachers to give teachers more time to study the new curriculum developed from the standards.

But that’s not enough for Beytin. She wants the entire Common Core process to slow down because she does not think the training provided over the past three years reached enough teachers. “The teachers are a little more familiar with it but it certainly is not where it needs to be yet,” Beytin said.

In addition, 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will depend on their students’ progress. The rules for determining a student’s growth will be written by teachers this year. But Beytin worried that teachers don’t know how to do that. “The teachers have not been trained nor the principals in how to write them, so they’re guessing at what they’re doing,” she said.

Baltimore city teacher’s union officials say they do not share Beytin’s concerns about the Common Core’s implementation. However, union president Marietta English says teacher evaluations are on her priority list. “We are working with the district and state to get it right,” English said. “Everyone wants a good evaluation…a good instrument that’s fair to teachers and the work that they do. How we get there has been a big issue.”

Other priorities for English include raising $6 million to build a professional development center this year and ratifying a new teacher’s contract.