Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Last week, this blog covered the continuing saga of the Germantown District School Board's attempts to exempt our schools from the widely-accepted Common Core State Standards (CCSS). At Monday night's meeting, the Board unanimously made the decision to drop the standards. Sort of. Kinda. Maybe.
The Common Core Standards are used as the foundation to build a curriculum at the local level. That is, the standards identify the skills to be mastered, and a curriculum is developed to teach those skills. Many of the anti-Common Core horror stories propagated through the internet are not inherent in the CCSS, but are selected (and often distorted) from the curriculum of an individual school or an individual teacher. These out-of-context distortions are then used to condemn the CCSS as a whole.
At Monday's meeting, Superintendent Jeff Holmes and Director of Teaching and Learning Brenda O'Brien made a presentation on CCSS. They gave a brief background on Common Core, covered the current status of CCSS in Germantown schools, and reported on the money spent to-date. Holmes ended with recommendations on how the Board might proceed on the standards.
Holmes offered three alternatives. Plan A follows the November 25 proposal by Bruce Warnimont to suspend all activities related to CCSS. Holmes said that this approach would generate much additional disharmony and discord among staff. Without consideration of standards, it would be difficult to develop a coherent curriculum. Also, our schools would be at a big disadvantage with respect to state assessment exams.
Plan C would be to continue on our current path, with the curriculum being developed around the CCSS. This plan seemed a bit of a simplistic straw-man. The plan assumed that only the very basics of Common Core were followed, without any local improvement on the standards. However, that is not the actual intent of the CCSS. It is meant to be a floor on student achievement, not a ceiling. Under this approach, the district would do OK, but would not continue to be a state leader. The specter was raised of state and federal interference in the district under Plan C.
Plan B, which Holmes advocated, builds on Common Core, or will “appropriately leverage Common Core as a support of our work”. However, we would surpass those standards. He says that it will allow the district to collaborate on creating a higher, “Germantown Model for Standards”. (This is actually what CCSS is meant to do). According to Holmes, this approach will allow us to become the “premier school district in the state”.This plan could be enacted without formally renouncing the standards.
After Holmes finished, there was some discussion among the board members. Bruce Warnimont regaled the audience with a verbatim anti-Common Core editorial by Republican presidential candidate, diet-book author, and Fox news host, Mike Huckabee.
Member of the Washington Co. Tea Party and US Tea Party Activists Homeschool Caucus Facebook Groups, Germantown School Board member Brian Medved stated that CCSS should be rejected outright, that the standards are being imposed by the federal Government, and that they are unconstitutional.
Board President Soderberg voiced concern about perceived loss of local control under CCSS, and about federal data collection. However, he did raise the question of possibly losing Federal and state dollars for the district if we abandon the standards.
Board member Spies moved that “The Germantown School District, through its Board of Education, commence work on the development of a modern, comprehensive, and systemic PK-12 curriculum beginning in January 2014 that aligns to the future “Germantown Model of Standards for Academic Achievement”.”The motion passed unanimously.
An amendment was passed, also unanimously, which said that Common Core would be used as a guide, not a standard and that developed curriculum would be put on-line.
It was unclear to me exactly what was decided. The decision was so vague that it could be taken as action running one extreme to another. At one end of the spectrum, the district would build a set of Germantown standards that paid little heed to the Common Core. This approach, much like Plan A above, would be a travesty for our district and our children. It would cost the taxpayers of Germantown dearly to start from scratch with all new standards. This may be what the hard-liners on the Board believed that they voted for.
At the other end of the spectrum, we would take the Common Core Standards as a base. It would be tweaked, adapted, and improved for Germantown. The result would be more rigorous than CCSS and would serve our children, and district well. Students would not be at a disadvantage when moving to another district. They would not be at a disadvantage when applying to college. That seems to be what the Superintendent intended in his recommendation. However, we just won't use the term “Common Core” in order to placate a small minority of district residents.
It is too bad that we have members on the Board who are so blatantly political that they follow the rantings of Mike Huckabee in making district decisions. It is too bad that we have a board that is more concerned with right wing internet mythology and being able to claim, “We abandoned Common Core ! ” than they are with saving money for Germantown taxpayers. Because our Board has made Common Core a political issue, we may well lose federal money and certainly will spend time, money, and effort on developing a new, non-vetted set of standards.