Today, I sat in on a meeting of the Academic Standards Review Commission, the group that has until December, 2015, to come up with education standards so incredibly high they will put the Common Core to shame. The meeting was held in the Administration building in Raleigh and many of the Commission members had driven in from the far ends of the state. Finding information about the Commission meeting was somewhat difficult. I only found out about this meeting by sending an email to a reporter who wrote an article about their September meeting. Their web site is still very basic. http://www.doa.nc.gov/asrc/upcomingmeetings.aspx
The feng shui of the meeting room left a lot to be desired. The big table used by the members is next to the wall where the projection screen is located. When the members sit facing that screen, they have their backs to anyone there to observe. It is difficult to determine who is talking and sometimes hard to hear what is being said. Because of that, I cannot tell you exactly who the speakers were. And as always, everything characterized as someone’s remarks is paraphrased unless in “ “.
Today’s meeting was dedicated to providing the commission members with an overview of the Common Core (CC) math standards. Their October meeting was on CC English/Language Arts standards. In better understanding how the CC standards are set up, the members can then look for different, better standards.
Part of what the commission is charged with is that “standards must be achievable within the education budget.” That raised a lot of questions in my mind, beginning with, does that mean less money will result in lower standards? There is already talk that revenue shortfalls will likely lead to cuts in an already stressed education budget.
The Commission itself does not yet have a budget. No funds to cover the basics, like copying, let along per diem for travel costs. One member comments that the lack of funding communicates to her that there is a lack of support for their work... and most of what they do will become merely anecdotal... “I don’t know whose cage we need to rattle....” Another comment was, “The issue is this board has taken on a tremendous responsibility and ... if we are not going to get any funding why are we here?? Driving back and forth to Raleigh for something that’s not getting any support......”
The response from the Chair is that the the bill creating this Commission does not clearly state where the funding is to come from and that should be solved before the end of the year.
I should mention here that Sen Tillman, who spearheaded the bill that created this Commission was present at the start of the meeting, but left about 30 minutes in. He does that frequently at all kinds of committee meetings, just makes an appearance then leaves. He made no remarks about their funding.
Dr. Jennifer Curtis, from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) was there with a very well put together presentation of the Common Core Math Standards as being taught now in NC schools. She did an excellent job of presenting material that is complex to those not familiar with the specifics of curricula and remained poised, calm and organized through multiple interruptions for questions. Truly a professional.
That being said, it was clear to me that there was a disconnect between the presentation and the committee members. There is technical language involved in the discussion of teaching standards that is unfamiliar to some of the board. Some members are teachers and principals; but the questions of a very few members show a lack of understanding of ‘standards,’ ‘curriculum,’ ‘clusters,’ and ‘domains.’ Not everyone knows the link between those words and what actually happens in the classroom. Some board members have actual experience teaching in a classroom, being a principal or other work within a school system, and they do understand. Some do not. Some members are basing their current opinions on the CC with their own child’s experience in school. Some are also concerned about kids who are destined to become “nail polishers” and whether or not that kid needs a 4th year of high school math.
One member had no idea what a high school ‘credit’ is. I was appalled that someone deciding the destiny of our academic standards had no idea of how the word ‘credit’ is used in relation to high school courses. And some of them admit they are not math-oriented people themselves, yet they are sitting here in judgement of the math curriculum to be used to teach every child in our state. But on the cheery side, all appear well-intentioned and desirous of doing a good job!
The choice of whether to adopt all the CC standards at once, or to phase them in by starting at the kindergarden level was the choice of each school district. The CC provides a list of textbooks that directly address their standards, but our school districts in NC are free to purchase books not on that list. Many teachers are creating their own resources to teach math the CC way. No real info or comments were made on whether this was by personal choice or if budget cuts have left our schools without funding to purchase new texts for use with the CC. Under CC, it is crucial that teachers understand the standards for the grades before and after the grade they teach.
Every 5 years DPI reviews standards. They are in the process of that now, and all responses should be back by the end of November. In this on-line review, teachers are asked which standards should be kept, issues they have about that particular standard or if the standard should be moved to another grade level. It will help sort out where each standard belongs. This would be the first review of how the CC standards are working in NC. Comments from some of the teachers in the group indicate that they feel the survey format leaves a lot to be desired and it is so time consuming to write that many teachers just don’t do it.
At the suggestion of one commission member, who is also a local school board member, DPI will provide all the raw data from the survey directly to the Commission so they can personally review the raw information. Why? Because, the school board member says, many people tell her they don’t trust DPI.
This committee meets once a month. Some of its members are professional educators and teachers. Some are not. They now have 13 months to get our schools set up for the future.