By Christine Jessel
Southern Education Desk (Knoxville, TN) - By 2016, students in 45 states and the District of Columbia will be learning the same things - at the same time - under the same set of standards. The nationwide plan is known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. But in the second part of our Southern Education Desk series on Common Core, Christine Jessel reports southern states are struggling to implement it.
Georgia and Alabama are among several states that recently proposed dropping Common Core curriculum. Susan Benner, the Director and Associate Dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, has been following the political tussles.
“It’s a puzzlement to me why people would at this juncture want to resist the Common Core as something that they don’t want to see in a state because there was in fact, lots of discussion, lots of development, lots of critique as these things were being developed,” says Benner.
The rising arguments against Common Core vary, from testing, to cost, to states’ rights, among others. But Carrie Heath Phillips, who manages Common Core curriculum implementation for the nonpartisan Chief Council of State School Officers, says it’s important to know who’s making the arguments against it.
“Generally what we’re seeing is that some of these detractors from the Common Core they don’t represent the larger viewpoint among people in a state or across the country,” says Phillips.
She says districts are facing growing pains when putting Common Core programs in place -
“But it takes time at the local level for you to learn what’s in the standards and to actually be teaching students to that; you don’t want to just flip a switch one day and say here are all the new things that students need to learn,” Phillips continues.
Last year, here in Tennessee, teachers learned new math standards; this year, they’re learning to teach English/Language arts. James Woodward is deputy director for operations for Anderson County schools, a mid-size district in rural East Tennessee.
“Our educators are very attuned; they do a lot of staff development during the year, especially our directors, and so they see all this stuff coming - but it’s kind of like being caught out in the middle of the road with a transfer truck coming down the road, you can see it coming, but you’re limited in your ability to get out of its way,” says Woodward.
One example, Anderson County instruction director Greg Deal says they dropped 90 minutes from the school day each Wednesday to give teachers additional training.
“The Common Core has forced us to be more creative when we start thinking about the calendar and how we’re going to delegate time for training,” he says.
In neighboring Knox County, school superintendent Jim McIntyre’s worried about meeting Common Core’s technology needs.
“Relatively speaking, we’re probably better positioned than a lot of other school districts in the state of Tennessee, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be, and it’s going to be a considerable effort over the next eighteen months to two years to be ready,” says McIntyre.
But McIntyre says there’s also a silver lining: Tennessee’s Common Core implementation could be smoother than others because the state already raised standards once on its own, and is providing statewide training and additional funds. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be harder roads ahead for Common Core.
“There’s going to be a time in the not too distant future where it will get really hard, and there will be a lot of pushback. And we will come to that moment where leaders in the state of Tennessee are gonna have to step up and say this is the right thing to do,” says McIntyre.
Already, districts across the South have started to hit roadblocks including tight budgets and some angry - and confused -constituents. And education reform experts say it will take more than teachers, principals and superintendents to keep Common Core on track. They say the effort to make these standards stick begins - or ends - with strong, continued backing from state leadership.