Local officials battle back against Common Core misinformation

Posted on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 12:01 pm

A fight is waging in Nashville, and in many other states across the country, as opponents of the Common Core State Standards are pushing back against the educational benchmarks.

A fight is waging in Nashville, and in many other states across the country, as opponents of the Common Core State Standards are pushing back against the educational benchmarks.

What began as a skirmish has now turned into a full-fledged war.

Common Core State Standards is a phrase on the tip of nearly every educator, administrator and even politician’s tongue, and each soldier has their own reason for fighting.

“We’re in the middle of education reform,” Hamblen County Director of Schools Dr. Dale Lynch said. “We’ve talked with teachers and administrators will continue to move toward CCSS. We’ve been working and training for the last couple of years towards this goal.”

The recently published 2013-2014 State of Education in Tennessee report listed continuing its commitment to holding high expectations for all students through the CCSS as its top priority.

Furthering its commitment, Tennessee’s next two out of the four top priorities include informing citizens, especially parents, about Tennessee’s CCSS as well as the aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC assessment and continuing to implement the PARCC assessments to better help measure students’ readiness for the workplace or higher education.

Many of the public criticisms of the CCSS are based on myth, misinformation or misunderstandings, Lynch said.

“There’s concerns in the community,” he said, “but I think when you listen to the concerns across the state and you sit down with them, you find that their concerns are based on misunderstandings and aren’t valid.”

In several states like South Dakota, Wisconsin and Indiana, the Common Core has led to legislative challenges. An Associated Press report shows that in some states, expansion of the Common Core is halted due to the amount of concerns both sides of the topic possess.

Much like any change in education, CCSS is facing a healthy campaign of misinformation combined with legitimate apprehensions.

There is a myth that the Common Core is a threat to academic freedom.

According to a fact sheet provided by the Hamblen County Department of Education, Common Core gives teachers “more freedom than they have had in the past.”

Common Core strips away the numerous standards teachers must reach through their students and replaces them with specific benchmarks that should be met. This allows topics to be taught more in depth with critical thinking standards allowing a deeper student understanding of the material.

Coinciding with another faux issue, critics have alleged students will no longer be reading literary classics like “The Great Gatsby” or works by Mark Twain. In fact, students will actually still be reading such classics and they will now have to demonstrate a deeper understanding and interpretation of the material.

In addition, CCSS will enhance readings with added emphasis on informational texts such as the Gettysburg Address.

According to the Hamblen County Department of Education, “Research shows that the old standards required students to read little informational text in school. Reading for the workplace and education beyond high school is often based on information and non-fiction texts.”

Another myth that has seen some action in the hands of politicians is that Common Core will allow personal, identifiable information about a student to be shared with the federal government.

Simply, this is false and already against the law.

Education officers from 35 states recently sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressing concerns of reporting requirements through the standards.

Such information that personalizes and identifies students is protected under federal privacy law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy ACT or FERPA.

New FERPA regulations were even established in 2008 and 2011 to clarify the role of the state in using student data while maintaining privacy protections.

The federal government can only collect aggregate or composite-level student data. Reporting information that would make it possible to identify an individual student is prohibited, and CCSS do not affect such prohibitions. Duncan said such individualized reporting is unlawful, and the U.S. Education Department will only continue to collect school-level data.

More information on CCSS myth versus fact can be found at www.tn.gov/education/doc/CCSS_myth_v_fact.pdf.

Lynch said that anytime there is negativity in the community, the Board of Education makes sure it understands all of the facts, and endeavors to inform students and their parents through teachers or local media.

The main solicitude Lynch has about CCSS is moving to the PARCC assessment, which will gauge students’ college and career readiness

“Any time you move to a new assessment, there’s anxiety,” Lynch said. “But new benchmarks require new assessments.”

The PARCC Assessment will be completely online, and several of the reservations Lynch has lies in the fact that when all of Tennessee’s students are online testing, “there are a lot of things that can go wrong.”

The new assessment will be given starting next year once the transition period for the Common Core is complete and English language arts and math tests will measure students learning with the new standards.

The PARCC Assessment will align itself with the ACT or American College Testing assessment, which students in Tennessee are legally required to take upon graduation from high school. The ACT will continue to be used for the HOPE or Lottery Scholarship.

Twenty-two states have adopted the PARCC Assessment while 25 have adopted the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or SBAC. The SBAC is a similar assessment to the PARCC, but the SBAC will have online adaptive tests that offer different questions to students based on their previous responses, while the PARCC is a fixed-form assessment. The ultimate goal after each assessment remains the same, which is to gauge college and career readiness.

In this war on education reform, Lynch has assured that Hamblen County is in good hands, and the path to CCSS will continue to be traveled.

“We’ve got outstanding leadership,” he said. “We have teachers and administrators involved in training who are training all across the state.”

By Joshua Dean, Tribune Staff Writer

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