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Letter: Change is Difficult

Thank you for your recent article, “Locals Speak At Common Core Forum” (Nov. 20). There’s a lot being said and written about the Common Core State Standards these days, not all of it accurate. As a 35 year veteran educator here on Long Island, I feel compelled to participate in the ongoing conversation.


Reality demonstrates that the USA ranks 17th global education ranking.  In addition, the Survey of Adult Skills by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that despite having higher than average levels of educational attainment, adults in the United States have below-average basic literacy and numeracy skills. The U.S. ranked 16th out of 23 countries in literacy proficiency, 21st in numeracy proficiency, and 14th in problem solving in technology-rich environments, according to the OECD survey. The U.S. scored below average in all three of the skills measured in a survey of 24 countries and sub-national regions. 


There seems to be much confusion about the Common Core standards. To be succinct, they simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards. The Fordham Institute has carefully examined Common Core and compared it with existing state standards: It found that for most states, Common Core is a great improvement with regard to rigor and cohesiveness.


The Common Core standards are not a panacea; much depends on the curricula that districts design to implement them.  They offer students the opportunity for a far more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K–12 education than most of them have had. Parents and other stakeholders used to be in favor of holding students to high standards and an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic. Aren’t they still? 


I know that many teachers are seeking ways to use this latest reform wave to serve their students well by doing things encourage 21st century thinking and learning.  Times are changing.


The common core standards are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed in the future.   Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others must now decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.


The common core standards will help teachers, students and parents know what is needed for students to succeed in college and careers, and will enable states, school districts and teachers to more effectively collaborate to accelerate learning and close achievement gaps nationwide.


Since so many states have signed on to the common core standards, leaders and educators are collectively wondering how to make these standards a reality quickly, efficiently, and effectively. Therein may be part of the problem; change is always difficult, and a ‘quick fix’ is not always the best in addressing anticipated bumps in the road.   First, successful implementation requires intensive capacity building, professional development, and training for teachers, principals, and district- and state-level staff.   Strong leadership should be key to implementing the standards. Many educators strongly support the adoption of the common core standards and anticipate significant benefits for their students; leaders should build on this enthusiasm to motivate their colleagues. 


Smooth implementation requires clear communication and open and ongoing discussions between policymakers, education leaders, teachers, staff, parents, and students. Schools need to be prepared to answer questions by stakeholders, and teachers should know how these standards will help each of their students. Also, collaborative teams, cooperative learning groups, learning communities, and other groups will be needed to help stakeholders at all levels build and discuss implementation plans before, during, and after the process.


Implementation will require stakeholders to be engaged in attempts to reshape teacher training, craft new curricular materials, and devise methods of gauging student progress toward any new standards. None of these conversations will be easy.    


The adoption of the standards should be perceived as just the beginning of a long journey toward higher levels of student achievement. There are dozens of unanswered questions regarding how these standards will be maintained, updated, and assessed.  But, creating high standards is the first step in transitioning our education system to the 21st century.  Just as important is helping educators understand the new standards and how to implement them in their schools and classrooms. The common core standards won’t bring about positive, meaningful change for students unless we translate the standards from words on a page to tangible improvements in learning and teaching.


I have seen the educational pendulum swing often throughout my 35 years in the classroom.  I support higher standards for student learning and achievement that are the result of a developmental process that educates the whole child through a broad and rich curriculum development. 


Without such purposeful efforts, a set of common standards will risk becoming the educational equivalent of bric-a-brac—attractive but useless.  By-passing the incremental necessary steps to a successful implementation will only ensure the demise of this much needed educational reform.


Diane Bentivegna


New Hyde Park resident