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In our opinion: Common Core schools' best chance to grow

State standards will give schools more tools with which to teach students


Despite what you might read in the blogosphere, the latest movement in public education reform is not an example of big government run amok.

The Common Core State Standards are not the product of liberal conspirators wanting to brainwash children. Nor are they the result of a conservative plot to undermine public education. They certainly don’t live up to the derisive name “Obama-core,” since the president had nothing to do with their development.Nov. 6 editorial

The issue with the Common Core isn’t whether these ambitious standards are appropriate, because they undoubtedly are. Rather, the question is whether a state such as Oregon and its school districts can dedicate the resources necessary for children to meet the core’s rigorous requirements.

School districts in Oregon have been rolling out curriculum based on Common Core standards since 2011. The new standards have generated some controversy in Portland Public Schools and other districts as critics on the right and left complain about a perceived loss of local control. Naysayers also worry, with good reason, about faulty implementation of yet-another educational initiative.

We understand opponents’ concerns, given the checkered history of education reform in the United States.

The Common Core, however, is different from previous attempts to make U.S. students more globally competitive. These standards weren’t handed down from on high by Congress and the president. They were developed from the bottom up — by governors and chief education officers from all 50 states — and they were shaped by input from teachers, school administrators, parents and education experts. The concept is simple: The educational progress of every child should be measured against a common set of standards, regardless of where he or she lives.

These standards are meant to be clear and ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to attend a two- or four-year college, or to enter the work force. So far, 45 states, including Oregon, have adopted the Common Core standards, which specifically target a child’s development in English language and math.

The language standards include benchmarks in reading, writing, speaking and listening. The standards grow increasingly complex as a child moves through different grade levels. In math, students in the lower grades start out with the foundation — whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals — and then progress toward hands-on learning in the areas of geometry, algebra, probability and statistics.

The goal is to have students in every state be competitive with students from throughout the world.

Establishing standards, however, isn’t enough to guarantee students will meet steeper expectations. Local school districts are working hard to complete implementation of the core this year, but they still face obstacles related to resources, testing and public perception.

Among the issues are:

– The difficulty of raising standards for student learning at the same time class sizes in Oregon are at their peak. Teachers are confronted with classrooms overloaded with students of widely different abilities. Now, they are being asked to bring these students up to even higher standards.

– The cost of training teachers in the new core and purchasing textbooks and other materials that line up with the core. Students are expected to demonstrate deeper comprehension of language and math, which means teachers and textbooks must be capable of delivering that understanding.

– The probability that scores on Oregon’s standardized tests will drop at first. The rigor of the Common Core will catch many people by surprise. Standardized test scores may decline, but that must be balanced against the fact that students are being challenged like never before. In some cases, standards have jumped by one to two grade levels, which could mean a fourth-grade student is now expected to perform in math like sixth-grade student.

– Engaging parents so they understand the ambitious nature of the new standards and the parental role in helping children be successful in a tougher educational environment.

All of these issues require patience on the part of parents and the general public. They also require transparency and direct communication from school officials. Progress cannot be measured solely by looking at one year’s standardized test scores. Something deeper is occurring in classrooms throughout Oregon, and it will take a few years before a change of this magnitude shows up in statewide data.

Parents and the public are rightly suspicious of the value of standardized tests, but the common core is much more than that. It’s an attempt to help our children develop the critical thinking skills necessary for Oregon and the nation to compete in the modern world. That’s an objective everyone should support.



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