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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Don't give up on Common Core

Don't give up on Common Core

It's worth working out the kinks

The implementation of the Common Core curriculum in New York hasn’t been quite as disastrous as Obamacare’s, but it has been seriously flawed. We’re glad to see the Board of Regents has acknowledged this and appointed a special task force to see what changes can be made to improve things in the short term. After all the loud criticism from parents and teachers, much of it valid, it’s important that the Regents show they are listening. However, Common Core standards shouldn’t be delayed significantly, or abandoned, because they offer too many benefits.

Common Core is a state-run effort to bring clarity and consistency to what kids are expected to know at each grade level, regardless of where they live. The rigorous content is designed to deepen their understanding of subject matter and their critical thinking skills. The clear, measurable standards will help schools to assess student and teacher performance better, and help teachers train and teach better.

Most of the states have spent the last 10-20 years developing their own standards. This is the next step, agreement on what students should know and when from 45 states and the District of Columbia. They’re national standards, in effect, but, importantly (at least for conservatives), voluntary ones.

It’s also the next step for students, teachers and parents. In math, for instance, students will have to show that they can solve problems in multiple ways, and write about it. Teachers will not just have to get kids to pass the test, but to understand the material. (The actual lessons, methods and class structure will be up to them, but the goal of every teacher in each grade will be the same.) Parents will be able to see just what their kids are supposed to know and, through testing, what they do know, which will make it possible to tell how their kids’ teachers and school are doing.

These are big changes and it’s inevitable that they’re going to meet with some resistance by those affected. But the Regents certainly didn’t help by rushing implementation — some teachers had to begin the year without even having the curriculum — and by not communicating with parents.

It also didn’t help that there was an increase in testing at the same time the standards were being introduced, due to the new teacher evaluation process. Nor did it help that, at one of the first public forums to explain the Common Core last fall, Education Commissioner John King was defensive and did more talking than listening to the frustrated parents and teachers, later dismissing them as special interests.

The Regents’ willingness to appoint the task force (which met for the first time last week) and to make adjustments, including in the area of testing, won’t appease those who see Common Core standards as some plot to take away local control and teachers’ freedom and creativity. But for those who see them for what they really are — an effort to improve education by setting goals while letting teachers and schools determine how to meet them — it’s welcome news indeed.

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