Proponent calls Common Core the 'great equalizer of education'
The Common Core State Standards logo. (Submitted illustration / April 30, 2013)
Common Core State Standards are intended to make sure that high school graduates are prepared to succeed in higher education, the military or the workforce regardless of where they live, Tim Eller, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said in a telephone interview.
"Curriculum is decided at the local level," Eller said. "Look at it as if the state standards are what you need to know to cross the goal line. The plays, and the books, are always determined by local school boards."
People mistakenly believe that this was a push by the Obama administration to nationalize curriculum. It was not. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers developed the standards for math and language arts. A committee of Pennsylvania educators reviewed the state's standards and the national Common Core standards — and blended them. The regulatory review was done between May 2012 and March 2013. The standards for Pennsylvania schools were adopted March 14.
In May the final form will be presented to the House and Senate and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for consideration. Unless one of those bodies decides against implementing the standards they will go into effect on July 1.
Joan Benso is president of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, the state's only children's advocacy organization. Its mission is to advance government policies that improve the health, early learning and well-being of Pennsylvania's children.
"We think Common Core is long overdue," Benso said in a telephone interview. "I congratulate the government, education secretary, teachers and parents who were involved in Common Core. They have set high expectations for our young people. They will be prepared for job training, higher education or the military after graduation."
Pennsylvania has been graduating a high number of students who were not able to be successful after high school without remedial education, she said.
"This is an initiative by the governors association and the chief state school officers, it is not a federal master plan to take over the schools," she said. "We live in a transient society. Children often move from school district to school district and even from state to state. This will bring some alignment to expectations. It is not a specific curriculum, there are no mandated textbooks. Pennsylvania's local school boards still have authority over what is taught. This does nothing to diminish that."
Pennsylvania will do a great disservice to children if it does not stay with Common Core, she said.
"It is a great equalizer of education," Benso said. "There are no additional data requirements. The idea that the schools would place probes on children is simply ridiculous. Children have rights under the Constitution and federal laws."
She believes that people are reading or hearing opinions on television and they are taking the opinions as facts.
"Our goal is to make sure all students have the opportunity for a great education and that starts with standards," she said. "We urge people to support Common Core standards. Parents want to be confident that students master what they need to succeed after graduation."
There have been reports that the cost of implementing Common Core will be $650 million over seven years. Since Pennsylvania is not using national exams and instead using the PSSA and Keystone Exams, first deduct $300 million from that total, Eller said. An additional $100 million of that money would go for new textbooks, but districts don't have to buy new textbooks if they don't want. About $250 million is estimated for professional development, but school districts aren't required to spend that money either.
"Do the school districts need to spend extra money on Common Core?" Eller said. "No. No additional money is needed at the local level."
The Education Department has an online program called the Standards Aligned System for educators. It provides teachers access to the Pennsylvania Common Core-aligned curriculum framework, materials and resources for free. Teachers can use it to determine how their students would score using the state standards. Teachers can post their lesson plans and ideas online and other teachers may decide to use what they have posted. The site is www.pdesas.org.
"We hope the Common Core approval process will be completed successfully," Eller said.