Fears that the new Common Core State Standards will result in the school district's loss of discretion over its curriculum are unfounded, according to school officials at the Monday, May 20, Board of Education meeting.
Far from concerned, the New Canaan Public Schools' curriculum experts were effusive in their praise of the new standards.
"There's a lot of great stuff in here," K-12 English faculty representative Glenda Green said. "I'm a real worrier, and I'm not worried about this."
The Common Core is a nationwide initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to achieve national academic standards. It has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. In July 2010, Connecticut adopted the standards, which go into effect for academic year 2013-14.
"The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing entry courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce. The standards are clear and concise to ensure that parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language and mathematics in school," according to the Common Core's website.
At the Board of Education meeting, Assistant Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Wilson pointed out that the Common Core is not a curriculum, but a set of standards, and that New Canaan schools are well positioned to meet them, so a big change is not expected.
"Because we already have rigorous curriculum, it's informative rather than transformative," she said.
Several teachers from different subjects spoke in favor of the new standards, explaining that the shift in focus nationally was something New Canaan has been doing for some time.
"Our curriculum is not the Common Core, our curriculum is developing mathematicians," K-12 math faculty representative Danielle Legnard said. "The Common Core is aligned to our belief system; our belief system is not designed to the Common Core."
On the English/language arts side, the Common Core standards place more of a priority on non-fiction informative texts, according to Green.
"It's reading to learn and looking at evidence and analyzing what an author is saying. This is a deeper way of reading," she said.
Board of Education member Mary Freiberg raised the concern that parents are not adequately aware of the details of the Common Core, particularly those related to the collection of student data, including test scores and student surveys.
"I love the curricular component of it," she said. "My concern is ... with the collection of data. Data profiles that include not only assessments but other things. What are the parameters and limitations of (student) profiles? (There's) talk of national databases?"
Wilson did not have an answer to these questions, but said the district is looking into data collection.
"The question about data is an important one. We've been asking, `Where is the data going?' We're looking at that. It has been suggested that perhaps child privacy regulations may have shifted. I feel that concern as a parent. I feel that concern as a professional," Wilson said.
While no parents spoke at the meeting, several Board of Education members mentioned that they'd received concerned emails from them. Nationally, there has been a backlash against the Common Core from conservatives and libertarians, who feel that the standards are an attempt to federalize an issue that has always been on the state level. The Republican National Committee released a resolution in April condemning the standards.
"RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is -- an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived `normal,'" the statement reads.
Superintendent Mary Kolek seemed to take the opposition to the standards that she'd heard from parents and others with a grain of salt.
"We've always had state standards, and have always updated our curriculum to whatever the appropriate standards are," she said at the meeting. "These happen to have a name and they happen to have some political pieces that are being attached to it."
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