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Common Core rewrite may not produce the best standards

Alberto G.

  Since September, parents, educators and business leaders have been working to try to rewrite the Common Core standards. Missouri first adopted Common Core in 2010 and is one of 45 states using the national standards for grades K-12.

So far, the committees in charge of rewriting Common Core have had meetings full of heated arguments and lots of confusion as they try to prepare a recommendation for the Board of Education by October 2015.

I spoke with Dr. Barbara Reys, Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum at MU, about why these committees may not be able to make the best decisions about education in Missouri.

This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity. 

Why are Missourians unhappy with the Common Core standards?

“I don't think they have issues with the standards themselves, at least if they've actually looked at the standards or compared them to the standards Missouri had prior to the Common Core. The standards we used to have were called the Grade Level Expectation document. The Common Core standards themselves get confused sometimes in the minds of a lot of people with other things that are related to standards. The reason we have standards is to convey to teachers what they are accountable for in terms of student learning. It would be unfair to administer high-stakes, end of the year tests unless you were very clear about what it was that those tests were going to what was going to be on those tests. I think some people are currently not happy with some of the assessment items and the amount of testing we do in Missouri schools and so they're rightly aggravated by that. It's not necessarily the actual standards they're unhappy about it, it's what goes with the standards, particularly the high stakes accountability measures.”

Why don’t people like the current assessment system?

“We are getting to a point, we keep increasing the amount of testing that we're doing and I think that's problematic. That's troublesome to parents and to teachers. I mean it's not unusual for schools to spend the better part of April testing students in math in literacy in science and other subjects and you can't have that amount of testing without taking away some important instructional time. Unless we're willing to expand the school year in a significant way, we're basically just trading testing for teaching and that's problematic.”

Since the work groups who are rewriting Common Core began meeting in September, we’ve seen a lot of confusion and disagreement within these meetings. Do you think this is going to be a successful process in creating standards that better fit the Missouri education system?

“Honestly I don't think it will produce a document that is of higher quality than either the Missouri GLEs which we used to have as standards or the Missouri Common Core which is now in place. I think we need really give ourselves a chance to pause and reconsider what we are going in terms of process. this is a technical document, it's been written by educators and people both in higher education and in K12 education, people who think a lot about mathematics, people who think a lot about teaching and learning mathematics and what's appropriate for kids to learn at different times. We’re putting lots of people who haven't taught children in classrooms, who haven’t thought about teaching and learning mathematics and what it is cognitively that kids are capable of. We're asking them to make decisions about when we teach fractions and how we teach fractions It would be like asking a set of patients to work with doctors to come up with standards for the care of cancer patients or something. We leave certain things in the hands of experts because they have the knowledge and experience to do the job.”

How is the Department of Elementary and Secondary education involved in this process?

“We have a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Jeff City that's charged with supporting schools and I think many of the experts that we've hired to do that work have been pushed aside and it's become much more of a political kind of process. I think the state legislature has gotten very involved in it. I wish they would back off and stick to policy and trust their own employees, And I think we're going down a road that is not going to produce a better learning environment for students as a result.”

In an earlier version of this story, it was incorrectly reported that the advisory groups would make their recommendation to the Missouri General Assembly. It will actually make their recommendation to the State Board of Education.

Hope Kirwan left KBIA in September 2015.
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